Thursday, June 18, 2009

Child Labor

Child labor is actual manpower coming from people below the age of 18. It is work that exceeds a minimum number of hours, depending on the age of a child and on the type of work. For children aged fi ve to 11, beyond one hour of economic work or 28 hours of domestic work per week already constitutes child labor. The hours increase as the child becomes older. For children 12 to 14 years old, 14 hours of economic work or 28 hours of domestic work per week is considered child labor. For minors 15 to 17, the minimum is 43 hours of economic or domestic work per week.

It comes in different forms. Children can work as household help or as workers in farming and fishing industries. Some are given work in quarries, mines, brick kilns and construction sites. On an even more dangerous note, children are increasingly becoming more involved in the drug trade or serve as providers of sex services. It is reported that children living in the poorest households are most likely to be involved in child labor, especially those in the rural areas.

While accepted as illegal and condemned in society, experts claim that child labor thrives steadfastly in underground economies because employers can get away with paying underage workers less than their adult counterparts.

Who is affected?

As if a disease, child labor is widespread across the globe and sees no boundaries. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) there are about 250 million economically active children worldwide; 153 million of these workers are in Asia. Around half of the economically active children are working full time and 30 to 46 million are in exploitative conditions. In Asia, many of these child laborers are hidden.

One in six children in developing countries is engaged in child labor. The numbers are alarmingly high, and they even get bigger. In least developed countries, 30 percent of all children are engaged in child labor. The highest instances of child labor occur in the sub-Saharan Africa, where one in three children aged five to 14 are working. Inversely, the lowest rates are in the Central and Eastern European region, producing one in every 20 children. In the East Asia and Pacifi c, ten percent of children are involved in some form of child labor. Higher percentages are found within South Asia with 13 percent of the minor population subject to exploitation.

In these cases it is reported that boys are far more likely to be engaged in child labor, especially those of the economic kind. On the other hand, girls are those who are burdened with the household chores.

Different kinds of child labor
One of the worst forms of child labor is the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that about one million children are lured or forced into the sex trade in Asia every year. More horrifying to know is that many of these children are introduced into the work by people known to them. Both children and adults are trapped in these circumstances for a myriad of socio-economical reasons such as poverty or unemployment.

In Southeast Asia, Thailand is believed to receive a large number of children trafficked from neighboring Asian countries, the majority of whom comes from Burma. Reports estimate that the number of Thai children working in the sex industry is somewhere between 27,400 and 44,900, including both foreign and ethnic. In Indonesia, children are brought to Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan for domestic and farm work or those in small factories.

In the Philippines, girls as young as 14 years old are persuaded by their parents to work in Japan as entertainers. The passports are tampered to change the date of birth so as to meet the age requirement. Another form of child labor seen in Asia is known as child servitude and child debt bondage. Although seen as a problem, its roots can be found within the sociocultural and political structures in some parts of South Asia. Bonded children are delivered as payment of a loan, sometimes favors given in advance. Children are treated as slaves and never know when their debt will be considered paid. In India, Nepal, and Pakistan - countries where the caste system is observed - there are still families and children from the lowest castes indebted to the landowners and upper class caste.

Many children from poor families are also engaged in child domestic work, some of them as young as eight years old. Many of them are victims of trafficking and bonded by debt to their employers.

Domestic child laborers are among the most diffi cult to reach as they are hidden in the privacy of households. Aside from exposure to the hazards of heavy household work, most of them are also victims of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Children are not only exploited in private industries and homes. Some are sent to the front lines as child soldiers, used as spies, porters or helpers in camps. Not being able to withstand the harsh environment, they are often subjected to abusive treatment. Burma, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Nepal are only some of the
countries that have documented involvement of children in conflicts.

Health consequences of child labor

A study conducted by the Institute for Labor Studies in the towns of Sta. Fe and Ormoc in Leyte, Philippines showed that child-farmers became more sickly after they started to work. Most of their health complaints include fever, cough, and flu.

While such sicknesses can easily be diagnosed, experts said that more studies are needed to assess the longterm impact of labor on a child’s health since some of the illnesses may manifest itself later on, when the child is already grown up. The ILO also cautions against using the same set of standards when talking about the work hazards and risks faced by child and adult laborers. Although both the child and adult laborers face the same risks, the ILO maintained that “the work hazards and risks that affect adult workers can affect child laborers even more strongly.”

When looking at the health impacts of child labor, it is important to go beyond the physical manifestations of ill health; it is equally important to pay attention to how the experience would affect their cognitive, mental, emotional, and behavioral developments later on in life. Developments in the prevention of child labor
Fortunately, the ILO says child labor is on the decline for the first time across the globe. The reports state that “Asia is one of the regions where the number of working children has dropped signifi cantly,”with fi ve million less working children in the Asia-Pacific region. Thailand, Malaysia and China are among the countries where child labor has considerably declined.

Economic growth in certain countries played an important role in the reduction of child labor. However, the ILO estimates there are still more than 122 million children working in Asia. In some countries, the number of child laborers has gone up in the past few years.

There is still hope, however. The ILO believes that these forms of child labor could be wiped out worldwide in ten years. The most imminent cause, poverty, should be reduced.

The importance of education in eradicating child labor cannot be overly emphasized. In a press release, Guy Thijs of the ILO Regional Offi ce for Asia and the Pacific, warned that failure to send child laborers to school would condemn them in a cycle of poverty. “Without access to free quality education, child laborers become youth with poor employment prospects who cannot lift their families out of a poverty trap, become parents who cannot give their children a better life," he said.

The article was published in Health Alert Asia Pacific newsletter (Issue 15) by HAIN. For copies of the newsletter, please write to