Contrary to popular belief in our country, child labor is alive and well in many parts of the world. Africa, Latin America, Middle East, Asia and the Pacific are areas where the practice is most evident. The one commonality that these countries have with each other is poverty. Non-elite families in these countries have to scrape just to earn enough money for food, and starvation is often the alternative to either pressing their children into local labor or actually selling their children into some type of slavery. It is a complex problem that tends to justify itself out of economic necessity.
There are numerous articles on this subject. The estimates for how many children are participants in the child labor market vary widely. From what I could find, they go from 100 million all the way to 218 million as of 2018, being that there is no official count of child laborers, so these are guesses. Regardless, this is a major problem in 3rd world countries. Poverty seems to generate this societal problem.
That is the crux of the problem, poverty. Poverty drives the need for additional income. The exploitation of children is a logical approach to acquire additional income, but the unintended consequences are severe. When children are exploited in the workplace, they have a much higher rate of physical injury, due to the propensity to be put in dangerous job situations, and their lack of experience using dangerous tools and lack of PPE’s to protect their health. Young children are put in a position where they can be permanently damaged physically which will have a direct relationship on their earning ability later on in life.
In some countries, primarily in Africa, children are drafted into the military or paramilitary groups, with a high rate of mortality. They also are often drafted into the international sex trade, subject to disease and early death. Those that survive these conditions to adulthood are then saddled with serious mental health issues.
Child labor practices also preclude 3rd world societies from economic and social improvement. Children engaged in work are not being educated and that perpetuates the cycle of poverty, with no way out. This is the true moral dilemma of the practice. With no way out of the cycle, poverty appears to be a permanent fixture in those affected societies.
It is morally reprehensible for child labor to be a permanent fixture. The big question is how to stop this vicious cycle and give these children and their countries the ability to advance up the economic and societal ladders to join the rest of the world in peace and prosperity. We, as citizens in the 1st world can insist on our retail buyers to only source goods from companies that do not use child labor. We can crack down on child sex trafficking and insist on children not being used in militaries. That would put a dent in the problem, but the underlying reason for the practice, poverty, would not then in any way be addressed.
Most if not all of these countries do not have the assets to fund adequate public schools, or to offer any government assistance to poor families that would be educating, rather than working their children. It points to the need for the international community, possibly the United Nations, to have a dramatic push to assist these countries in developing their children through education. Supplanting family incomes through food distribution in order to make it possible to educate children for the future, rather than to work them for present needs. Only then would the international community have an impact on this problem.
Now the question is, will anything actually get done? Most of these countries that embrace child labor are corrupt dictatorships or pseudo-democracies that would have little interest in change, unless it had a direct and immediate benefit to their income and power. Chances are that any assistance, if offered, would not trickle down to those that needed it most. With Nationalism on the rise, it would be doubtful that many countries would be interested in contributing to costly programs that would have little if any direct benefit to their immediate national interests. With political leaders worldwide mostly focused on “short-term” interests, it is doubtful that this problem will be eradicated any time soon.