For many families across the globe asking younger children to help with chores around the house creates multiple benefits for the child. They grow in self-esteem while learning necessary life skills: how to clean their room, wash laundry, cook a meal, tend a garden.

But in impoverished communities, millions of children work simply because their survival depends on it. When a family is very poor, often young children are forced to work to provide for their own care or add to the household income. Imagine a five-year-old going to bed hungry with no hope of food tomorrow unless they work.

The United States has several lines of defense to protect the rights of workers. For instance, the U.S. Department of Labor was set up in 1913 to promote the wellbeing of all job seekers, wage earners, and retirees. The Fair Labor Standards act of 1938 (FLSA) established minimum wage and minimum age for young workers. Our national child labor laws preserve educational opportunities and prohibit the employment of children in unsafe workplaces.

But across the globe, standards are different. The distinction of a child working and crossing the line into child labor is not as clear cut in non-Western cultures. For instance, 71% of child labor consists of agricultural work which includes fishing, forestry, livestock herding and aquaculture – all skills for survival.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines child labor as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.” This includes forced labor conditions that put a child in danger of being mistreated mentally, physically, socially or morally.

The suffering of these at-risk children is global.

  • Worldwide 152 million children are victims of child labor
  • 73 million of these work in hazardous conditions
  • Almost half of the 152 million victims are aged 5-11 years

Africa accounts for almost half of child labor (72.1 million), followed by 62.1 million in Asia and the Pacific; 10.7 million in the Americas; 1.2 million in the Arab States and 5.5 million in Europe and Central Asia.

Recently, many organizations have launched awareness campaigns to educate the public on the profound effects of the child labor crisis. World Day Against Child Labor was created by the ILO in 2002. Held annually on June 12, this day focuses on how to work together to eradicate child labor and fight for the rights of children.

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