Child labour refers to any physical, mental, sexual or social abuse of children during the early years of their lives. The practice usually takes place in rural areas and developing countries where families need to earn a living to support themselves. Often children are brought up by their parents in conditions where they experience severe emotional, psychological and physical abuse. They are subjected to exploitation such as forced labour, child marriage and working on farms even at a very young age. Their lives are controlled by their primary caregivers i.e.
Child labour represents one of the worst forms of exploitation and abuse. Children who are forced to perform monotonous and badly organized tasks are deprived of their right to enjoy vocational education and growth. Moreover, the physical, sexual and verbal abuse they are subject to at an early age leaves an indelible impression on their minds. Most of the child labour cases take place in the Asian and Pacific regions. A recent report says that there is a serious and increasing problem of child labour in Southeast Asia and the Caribbean.
In most cases of child labour, young people are forced to work in conditions that are below the international minimum standard of life. They earn less than the minimum wages and have to endure dangerous and unhealthy living conditions. The principal reason behind the rising demand for child labour in the developing world is the need among the rural population for an education program that will assist them in improving their living conditions. Since education is not available to most child labourers, family members, especially women, have to undergo formal education to earn enough money to support their families.
The practice of child labour is detrimental to the interests of both the children and the parents. On the one hand, it does not benefit the child labourers because children become dependent on their parents when their family cannot support them; secondly, child labour often denies them the opportunity to participate in economic development activities. On the other hand, the parents are forced to do all the hard work in providing food, clothing, shelter, health care and education to these child labour offenders. According to the latest report by the ILO (UAE Department of Labor), more than 152 million children below the age of 18 are trapped in the hands of child labour.
The ILO estimates that at least fifteen million girls and boys are child labour in the Middle East (excluding Iraq). Of these, over half are from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Of these, approximately half are working in hazardous conditions. The youngest child labourers are toddlers aged between six to eight years. Over half are employed in agriculture, construction and other manual labour.
A recent survey in Pakistan found that most families in rural areas do not have an adequate number of articles of clothing to keep their children warm and dry. Thus most children live in harsh conditions, exposed to harsh temperatures and dangerous materials and pesticides. Lack of education and lack of proper health care facilities are the main causes of child labour in Pakistan. However, child labour is not the only cause of poverty and a problem faced by many children. A recent study in Bangladesh found that most children live in extreme poverty due to poverty-induced child labour.
In some countries, child labour is so prevalent that it is called slave labour. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, children as young as six years old are recruited for begging on the streets. Although local children earn a few dollars collecting garbage or carrying water and food to the local markets, the children are forced to pick crops, wash clothes and prepare meals – the majority of which is not fresh and edible. Many children work long hours in the fields earning as little as two US dollars for every hour of hard work.