The Reasons for Child Slave Labor
by Jillian Himilrick
Every day, millions of children, in rich and poor countries alike, spend their days at the beck and call of adults for whom they cook, clean, and care for other children, not much younger than themselves. These children are domestic workers. Detecting the amount of children working in domestic service is beyond human capabilities, yet it is known that the hidden nature of domestic work means it often escapes the reach of the law and heightens the risk of abuse for works at the hands of their employer. “Although legal protections exist, they are often little known and poorly enforced.” These domestic workers, otherwise known as children of slave labor, are under-paid and unable to access complaint procedures. Although child slave labor is wrong, many reasons exist as to why this labor came into existence.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has estimated that 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen work in developing countries. At least 120 million of these countries are on a full time basis. “Sixty-one percent of these are in Asia, 32 percent in Africa, and 7 percent in Latin America.” Most children in rural areas are found in agriculture, some as domestics, others in trade and services, and then fewer in manufacturing and construction. Child labor ranges from four-year-olds tied to rug looms to keep them from running away, to seventeen-year-olds helping out on the family farm.
Denied an education and a normal childhood, some children are confined and beaten, reduced to slavery. Some are denied freedom of movement- the right to leave the workplace and go home to their families. Some are abducted and forced to work without pay. The reason, for this amoral treatment is because the parents may be promised something that, in the end, turns out to be a faulty agreement. “Abdul Mohammed, who runs the Child Welfare League of Nigeria, said that well-dressed traders travel to poor rural areas in Benin and offer parents money, from $20 to $40, in exchange for their children, promising that the ones they take away will end up rich and successful.” Parents give up their children for work, hoping for a decent education in return, while all their child is receiving may be unfair cruelty.
Many of the traps that the parents fall into are because of the way the business managers can convince the parents how “well needed” the child may be. For example, Sadique convinces parents by saying the following.
‘I've admired your boy for several months, Nadeem is bright and ambitious. He will learn far more practical skills in six months at the loom than he would in six years of school. He will be taught by experienced craftsmen, and his pay will rise as his skills improve. Have no doubt, your son will be thankful for the opportunity you have given him, and the Lord will bless you for looking so well after your own.’
Although it may seem illogical for a parent to give up their child so easily, if they are being told something so promising and positive, they will willingly give their child up. Because of convincing business honors, this is one main reason as to why children are slave labors.
Children, who work long hours, often in dangerous and unhealthy conditions, are exposed to lasting physical and psychological harm. Working at rug looms, for example, has left children disabled with eye damage, lung disease, stunted growth, and a susceptibility to arthritis as they grow older. “Children making silk thread in India dip their hands into boiling water that burns and blisters them.” These children also breathe smoke and fumes from machinery, handle dead worms that cause infections, and guide twisting threads that cut their fingers. Although causes to children who are forced to be slave laborers are apparent, the low economy in the specific location may cause children to be put into that situation.
One main reason why children are used for labor, as compared to an adult, is because they are economical.
When pressed Sadique admits, ‘I hire them first and foremost because they're economical. For what I'd pay one second-class adult weaver I can get three boys, sometimes four, who can produce first-class rugs in no time.”
Sadique believes that if he can get the same amount of work done, or even more for the same price, he will use children. The low cost of child labor gives Sadique and his fellow manufacturers a significant advantage in the Western marketplace, where they undersell their competitors from countries prohibiting child labor, often by improbable amounts.
In this cut-throat business, companies are anxious to find ways to cut costs. In the process, workers throughout the Americas are placed in competition with one another, deprived of their labor rights, and forced to accept the discipline of low wages and the market. Competition favors producers and distributors that can operate in a consistent way at lower costs, particularly those who can sell at prices that are substantially above costs. If big companies can make good business at a lower cost, for example hiring employees who will work for little to nothing, they will hire children. By working with these children, the businesses will be making more money, and giving away less because of the low wages they are giving to their employees.
The world’s largest processor of cocoa beans, ADM has for the most part escaped charges that have tainted West Africa’s multi-billion dollar chocolate industry: the use of forced child labor to grow and process the main ingredient in chocolate. But ADM’s part in industry efforts to blunt reform may implicate it in what amounts to child slavery. “70 percent of the world’s child laborers are concentrated in the agricultural sector,” where they are forced to toil in blazing heat, carry heavy loads, and routinely exposed to deadly pesticides, machetes and other dangers, according to the U.S. State Department.
Although it is not illegal for children to work on farms, international human rights laws forbid children to work so many hours that they cannot attend school. In 2001, leading members of the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, along with ADM and seven other companies, signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol, an agreement that committed them to identifying and eliminating the worst forms of child labor on farms in Cote d’Ivoire and other parts of West Africa. “Yet ten years later, the reform has proven less effective than its boosters originally hoped.” The protocol is non-binding, and the companies have resisted any certification regime that might allow consumers to help drive the transition to fair labor practices.
Although different types of rules, regulations, and standards seem to be produced all around the world, these policies seem to be broken daily. These rules are rarely implied because the government in that specific country neglects to enforce them. Many reasons for child slave labor exist. For example, business owners deem it more economical to hire a child who will work for more hours than an adult, and has the capability to do more tasks because of their stability. Parents of these children are also convinced to sell their child into labor because they are promised that their child is getting a “proper education” or a right of freedom, when in reality they are really only being mistreated and getting less advantages then most adults. Also, these parents may think that selling their child into labor is the only choice that they have. If they are being promised a steady wage, as oppose to them working for little to nothing, they will give their child to that company. For many families, this may seem like the only logical choice. Every child deserves a right to freedom. Growing up, children are expected to play in their yards or run around with their friends; not working in the fields picking cotton and slaving over a piece of cloth and needle. Since the causes of child slave labor are known, ways in which this exploitation can be stopped should immediately be implied.