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Child Laborers: A Global Epidemic

Updated on November 21, 2014

Today, there are approximately 246 million children between 5 and 14 who are under full-time employment in countries around the world. According to some estimates, about 100 million of these children live and work in India, under harsh conditions for very little or no pay.

Child Laborers protesting
Child Laborers protesting | Source

These children work in a number of fields, usually for long periods of time (12-14 hour days) under grueling and often dangerous conditions. This is not our usual portrait of young people working; these children do not simply baby-sit after school or wait tables on weekends. These children, many under 10 years old, work as weavers, glass-makers, and dangerous jobs such as clearing sewer drains or jockeying livestock through rough terrain. There are several reported cases of young girls who are responsible for the domestic duties of entire households, including caring for children not much younger than they are.

Different Forms of Child Labor in Central America
Different Forms of Child Labor in Central America | Source

Countries with the Worst Child Labor Statistics

  1. Ethiopia - Nearly 60% of Ethiopian children are put to work to help the family, and earn about a dollar a month. Most work domestic jobs, or as farm hands, or in the nation's poorly developed gold mines.
  2. Pakistan - Children work in many factories which import products we use every day, such as rugs, musical instruments, and sports equipment.
  3. Afghanistan - Children make up more than half the population of this country, and more than 30 per cent of primary-school aged children go to work in cement, textile and food processing industries, or in the poppy fields. Girls are often sold to repay debts
  4. North Korea - Usually closed off from the outside world, reports have emerged from North Korea of child 're-education through labor', where youths are placed in labor camps as punishment for political offences.
  5. Myanmar - The Burmese Army recruits children as young as 12, and those who do not serve are often put to forced labor, or sorting through garbage on the street. There is a very high suicide rate among Burmese children.


Increasing International Awareness

Child labor is an internationally recognized crime, and the UN has expressed adamantly that this kind of work is a violation of the children’s human rights. As most of these children are not ‘on the clock,' their employers can force them to work 7 days a week, sometimes for up to 16 hours a day under dangerous environments.

Because of the long hours and tiresome labor, almost all child laborers do not attend school or receive any kind of education. According to, children who are educated are shown to have a much better chance of elevating their status, moving out of poverty, and staying away from crime and drugs. Depriving these children of a basic education ensures that they will not be able to improve their quality of life, and will be forced into a life of labor forever.

To put this into perspective, imagine if you were only ever taught and qualified to perform one job, one task, and you were told to do that every week of your life; now imagine you were forced to do this from the age of 5 onward, until you physically cannot work anymore. For most of us in the modern world, this sounds like a life hardly worth living.


Where Is The Solution?

The solution to the problem is not a simple one, and has left many policy maker perplexed as to what should be done. It seems that the most obvious course of action would be to impose sanctions on companies which use children as workers, and force the organizations to ensure better conditions, fewer hours, or to simply not hire the children at all. However, this still leaves the impoverished children without any income, and families would be even more financially pressed to provide basic necessities.

Ending Child Labor by 2016

Surprising Facts About Working Children Around The World

  • One in six children 5 to 14 years old — about 16 percent of all children in this age group — is involved in child labor in developing countries.
  • In the least developed countries, 30 percent of all children are engaged in child labor.
  • Worldwide, 126 million children work in hazardous conditions, often enduring beatings, humiliation and sexual violence by their employers.
  • An estimated 1.2 million children — both boys and girls — are trafficked each year into exploitative work in agriculture, mining, factories, armed conflict or commercial sex work.
  • The highest proportion of child laborers is in sub-Saharan Africa, where 26 percent of children (49 million) are involved in work.

Are We Doing More Harm Than Good?

Ten-year old Moyna, who worked in a garment factory, talked to UN representatives about the harsh repercussions of not allowing children to work. When the factory was shut down, she and 50,000 other children lost their jobs, and their families had to struggle to find new income. She stated, “They loathe us, don’t they? We are poor and not well educated, so they simply despise us. That is why they shut the factories down.” For many of these children, the hardships of working do not outweigh the need to provide for themselves, and for their families. They feel that international involvement can be devastating, and while many of these efforts appear to be in the best interest of the children, there is often no alternate way shown to earn a living. Product bans and shutting down companies may solve one aspect of the problem, but it does not ensure that the children will be any better off once their forced labor is over.

According to the UN International Labor Organization (ILO), in 2008 there were an estimated 44 million children working in India, but more recent estimates show that number to be closer to 100 million. The Indian government has strongly opposed these claims, stating that the number is closer to 12.6 million and that they are working tirelessly to rectify this situation. In October 2006, the Indian government made it illegal for companies to hire children under 14 to work as domestic servants or at roadside shops. However, many NGO’s feel that India has done very little to enforce its policies, and has done even less to protect the children once they are no longer working. The goal for solving this problem is not simply ensuring that these children do not work, but more importantly, ensuring that these young people are not being exploited.

A young boy working in a factory, under deplorable conditions.
A young boy working in a factory, under deplorable conditions. | Source


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    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 

      3 years ago

      a thought-provoking hub

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thanks Paul! No unfortunately I don't have any figures for China, but I'd be really interested in looking into it. Thanks for the feedback!

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thank you very much for bringing to light a problem which many people in the western world are not that aware of. I didn't realize there was so much child labor in India. Do you have any figures for China? I am sharing this with my HP followers.

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      This is truly modern-day slavery, you are all correct. I just think it's completely appalling that we are able to send spaceships to Mars but this practice still continues today. You guys make very good points, the children should be the priority, even though they are not the only ones affected, it is important to show them there's hope and goodness in the world before it's too late.

    • MarieLB profile image


      3 years ago from YAMBA NSW

      Hi Jonas Rodrigo, I quite agree that it is not only children that are being forced into some sort of slavery.

      The problem is deep and wide and it can seem like an unsurmountable problem - unless - we make a plan. A plan that will aim for a narrow focus on a small goal, that will then - hopefully - to other, bigger, wider goals.

      My view is that the children are the ones who naturally demand the priority. Our civilization compels us to protect the most vulnerable.

    • Jonas Rodrigo profile image

      Jonas Rodrigo 

      3 years ago

      This is the face of modern-day slavery. People (not necessarily children although child labor is widespread) are being forced into jobs that are not fit with their skills.

    • Jonas Rodrigo profile image

      Jonas Rodrigo 

      3 years ago

      This is sad. We have to do something about this.

    • MarieLB profile image


      3 years ago from YAMBA NSW

      So many of us abhor this situation and feel helpless and powerless to do anything much about it.

      Can we focus on what we can do, little as it may be, rather than the opposite?

      I believe that helping ONE child at a time is a worthy indent. Find a way to contribute to a child with some organisation in your locality. Do whatever you can do - even if it is only a small box of goodies for Christmas [as we do with one of our organisations here], just to give one child a smile. If you can do more, be aware that love given is never, ever, wasted.

      And then there is the pen - or keyboard. Write, write, write wherever you can air this scourge, outside of HP. Let us use our skills to bring this to the attention of others, preferably where the powerful will see.

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thank you Pstraubie! It really is heartbreaking. Other than throwing money at the situation (which doesn't solve everything) it's difficult to know what to do to help. If you know of any organizations or ways to help please let me know! And thank you for sharing the hub.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      3 years ago from sunny Florida

      You have touched on yet another topic that should be of concern to everyone on the planet. Neglect, abuse, and exploitation of children is never justified.

      It is heart breaking and leaves me wishing there was something real I could do to make a difference.

      Angels are on the way to you and to any young child who is a virtual slave any where in the world. ps

      Shared g+ pinned tweeted

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 

      3 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      A century ago, this was happening here in the US. When child labor was outlawed in one state, they simply shipped the children to another for work. We have since found a way to eradicate it in this country altogether, and make it mandatory for them to attend school until age 16. Perhaps we can find ways to use similar tactics abroad? I don't know...

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      I agree, other than some of the programs implemented as part of the UN Millennium Development Goals, it seems like little has been done in these countries to actually follow through with complying. It's sad to see these children who've had their childhood taken from them, and there appears to be no end in sight. Thank you for reading, and for your feedback.

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 

      3 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      This is a subject that has been brought to light, but seems little has been done about. It's sad because we know child labor robs the kids of their freedom from just being kids. This is their time to just enjoy life before they spend the rest of their lifetime with many adult responsibilities. On the other hand we know many families need that little income in order to survive.

    • CorneliaMladenova profile image

      Korneliya Yonkova 

      3 years ago from Cork, Ireland

      So sad. In some south-eastern European countries the situation is as in the Third World. And politicians do nothing to stop it. :(

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thank you so much, I'm very glad you enjoyed the article. It really is important to keep in mind that we all enjoy so many luxuries in our daily lives and are blessed with so much, even when we worry about how little we have in the moment. It is important for all of us to stay aware of these issues and be the change we want to see in this world.

      Thank you, truly, for your passion about such a serious issue. The children are the future, and they deserve a chance to make it the place we always wanted it to be.

    • MarieLB profile image


      3 years ago from YAMBA NSW

      In my mind this scourge of abusing childhood is very high on my priority list of Don’t-Wants, and that is why I write again.

      These children have to work either because they have no family or because the family depends on what little they can earn.

      With enough will, this should not be and will not be. It is a blight on our humanity.

      I know that as you say in your article, we could well be damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

      There are many ways this can be tackled.

      Quite likely the parents themselves are testament to the results of child labor and no education. I believe that if poor families are assisted to find ways of helping themselves, we will go a long way to eradicating this abomination.

      Governments of places where these abuses are rampant also need to be leaned on to care for orphans who have no one to take care of them. The state should.

      Money is not enough to work the magic. Especially if it is administered by those who depend on the masses remaining ignorant and helpless.

      World Vision pulls the heart-strings with pictures and stories of children to help the family.

      There are many others who help with small loans to those who have the willingness and ability to work, but need some capital to start with.

      For example -Kiva - Loans that change lives Offer people in the industrialized world the opportunity to lend small sums of money. . . . .

      The Co-operative and CARE International launch innovative ways to assist the poorest to help themselves.

      Banker To The Poor -Muhammad Yunus is that rare thing: a bona fide visionary. His dream is the total eradication of poverty from the world. In 1983, against the advice of banking and government officials, Yunus established Grameen, a bank devoted to providing the poorest of Bangladesh with minuscule loans. . . . .

      With today’s communication we can all do something to ameliorate this situation.

      It may take a long time to put enough pressure on governments to distribute their wealth in a more equitable manner, but if we keep at it, it will eventually bear fruit. Once a government makes even a small step towards this, then the rest will follow as night to day. As a few helplessly poor people gain some traction, the rest will be encouraged to do the same. It’s like snow sliding off a roof. It is just hard to dislodge the first pile.

      KMSplumeau I am so pleased that you chose such an important subject to write about. You’ll be shaking many of us who may have dozed off and forgotten about the misery around us.

      You write clearly and in an interesting way. Of course I’ll be happy to vote it up.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Having to work as a child labor before school, after school, and weekends I am totally against this type of action. We were blessed in this country we at least got to go to school.

    • MarieLB profile image


      3 years ago from YAMBA NSW

      #KMSplumeau, It is so interesting to read something that has so much value! There are many of these children who are being used and abused by the adults for their own financial gain. It is so important that we bring these problems into the light. It is the first step but ultimately we need to find a solution. Maybe more discussion might come up with some ideas? Great article worthy of vote-up.

    • Buildreps profile image


      3 years ago from Europe

      It's exactly as Kylyssa stated very well. Capitalism is at the root of this in the hands of a few evil people, nothing else. Thanks for bringing this subject to the surface again, Kmsplumeau!

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 

      3 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      Capitalism is at the root of it. I realized this working as a child on my parents' farm. It is hard work to carry water and food to animals and hard work to clean animal buildings, gather firewood, and herd animals many times my size.

      We all worked long and hard, much harder than we actually would have needed to if out-of-control capitalism had not been in the picture. It was dangerous for me to work directly with herds of full-grown sows as a child and, if capitalism hadn't gotten so crazy already, I wouldn't have had to because we could have had a few grown men to come in and work because we wouldn't have been producing literally tons of high cost food and living in poverty.

      A family with hundreds of hogs would have been a wealthy family just fifty years before, but in the eighties, it required multiple family members working outside the home just to support it. The animals cost just barely less to raise (not counting our labor!) than we could sell them for. At the worst point, we literally made less profit per market hog than it cost to buy a pound of their meat in the grocery store.

      The true value of all the food our family provided to our community was lost in the societal change in focus away from valuing life-sustaining effort and goods and toward valuing the markers or tokens that used to just represent goods and services. The goods and services are no longer valued and the tokens that represent them, the IOUs for them, are now what is used to determine the perceived value of human beings.

      Many in our society consider people who work many hours, providing services and producing goods, to be lazy if they don't have enough markers (money) because their work has been sorely undervalued by the people who profit most from it.

      Yes, I sometimes worked twelve hour days, doing somewhat dangerous work almost daily, as a child and there were no days off because animals don't ever stop needing care. But it was completely different from child wage slavery or straight-up child slavery. There was no choice but to work but I never lacked for food and I was allowed to go to school.

      It still sucked like all get out (and made my parents run away from home!) and my survival to adulthood routinely astonishes me. But this child slavery is at least a hundred times worse. It's what out-of-control capitalism does in developing countries where a few powerful people have caught on to the fact that they can live like kings or gods by keeping slaves and their society is letting them get away with it.

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Why thank you Iris! That is so sweet of you. I'm so happy you enjoyed it, and that you believe topics such as this should be discussed more often. We should give voice to the voiceless! Thank you again for reading and for your kind words.

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 

      3 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      KM, you are a person after my own heart and a very good writer. I appreciated your balanced approach in pointing out that the cure is often as bad as the disease. This is such a complicated issue and worth a great deal of discussion, compassion and rational action. Voted up.

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      I agree somewhat, yes, that those countries would have a better understanding of how to help their own citizens, but many leaders in nations where this is a huge problem don't seem to take the initiative to enact or enforce legislation to protect their weakest citizens, whether for political gain or simple apathy, I'm not sure. I think if we work globally to eradicate the problem it might be better than leaving them to their own devices. Thoughts? Thank you for commenting again, I'm very happy to hear your input.

    • colorfulone profile image

      Susie Lehto 

      3 years ago from Minnesota

      There really isn't much that people in other countries can do, except to support the powers that be in those countries, that are trying to make changes for the better. They can make a difference because they understand the needs of the children better, etc..

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thank you Aesta, yes, the problem does occur in these situations that, if they are forced NOT to work, their families occasionally suffer. I'm not familiar with that program in Cambodia but I'll definitely look into it, that sounds positive.

      And thank you for your comment, Willstarr, and I agree many young people are obligated to work at least part time for some of their younger years, especially in more rural areas, but the problem is many of these countries don't enforce certain safety and labor regulations, as children are seen as manipulable and expendable. While many people in the US were able to go to school and work part time, these children are often forced to leave school completely to work up to 7 days a week, for long and grueling hours. Thank you for reading, I'm very glad you felt that this was an important issue, and thank you for your feedback as well!

    • WillStarr profile image


      3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      While I don't support child slave labor, I also remember that we all had jobs when I was growing up. Farm kids had chores before and after school, and the town kids all had jobs too. I mowed lawns, and shoveled snow. Later, when I was about twelve, I got a job repairing radios because that was a great interest for me.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      The International Labour Organization is doing good work in resolving this issue such requiring employees to educate these kids. Unhappily, many of these kids have to work to enable the family to live. I used to have a student who would run after classes to the streets to work so his elder brother can finish school and then support him to College as well. Depriving some of them of work is putting their families to extreme poverty. Ministries of Labor and Vocational Training like in Cambodia offer skills bridging programs so kids who dropped out can get back into the education system.

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thank you for reading! And I agree. many leaders do not put the needs of the poorest and most helpless citizens on their agenda, which leads to problems such as the rampant exploitation of child laborers. Thank you for your comment, I'm glad you enjoyed this article.

    • WillStarr profile image


      3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      First, do no harm. I like your careful approach, because all too often, well-intentioned people rush in and make things worse.

      All of these are backward countries that desperately need to emulate the successful countries. But that requires leaders who have the people's best interests at heart, and most simply do not.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 years ago from The Caribbean

      This condition is sickening and makes me feel helpless. However, your article is necessary to make us all participate in the horror that is dealt to these children. Which we knew exactly what to do to end this crime. Voted Up!

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Yes, that is the question, there doesn't seem to be any way to help these kids while making sure that their families have sustainable income. It's a very sad situation, I hope we find an answer soon. Thank you for your feedback!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Wonderful hub, but this is a very difficult situation. As you say putting sanctions on or closing down companies leaves the famlies of these children worse off and increases poverty further..what are we to do?

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      I completely agree, Rchrdsnc - we feel so helpless when we see these atrocities and can't do anything about it. The most we can hope for is that by spreading knowledge and increasing sympathy and awareness, those in power will finally take action to protect the innocent.

    • Rchrdsnc profile image

      Carl Richardson 

      4 years ago from Midwest USA

      This is truly outrageous. I wish more could be done to stop it.


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