The Truth about Child Labor

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A young child mixes mud to make bricks just before  IJM  and the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) showed up at a brick kiln near Bangalore to free 25 bonded laborers.

A young child mixes mud to make bricks just before IJM and the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) showed up at a brick kiln near Bangalore to free 25 bonded laborers.

As I type these words, my daughter rests quietly in her room after a full, playful day at preschool. She comes home with colorful pictures to hang across our mantle and the knowledge of new letters and numbers to scribble on her chalkboard. She’s able to just be a kid, with room to learn and grow mentally, physically, and spiritually. It’s her right, yet for millions of other children globally it’s not even a possibility.

Children have a natural curiosity and magic about them because there is something special about the freedoms that come with growing up and learning about the world. Sadly, child labor is a very real global issue that’s hindering the life and positive outcomes for so many. The International Labor Organization estimates that of the 152 million children laborers in 2016, 73 million of those are in hazardous work that is dangerously impacting their mental and physical development.

What is Child Labor?

Children work at a brick-making factory in  Jalalabad , Dec. 17, 2013.

Children work at a brick-making factory in Jalalabad, Dec. 17, 2013.

Child labor is much more than just day-to-day work or chores. The ILO describes these actions as actual labor, often conducted under the minimum working age, that is directly depriving boys and girls of their childhood and keeping them from gaining an education -- and in many ways, it is stripping children of their dignity, personal freedoms, and safety.

With the dramatic number of children in labor situations today, the United Nations set out to eradicate this horrible issue through one of their 17 Sustainable Development Goals. With the vision of transforming our world by 2030, Goal 8.7 specifically reads, “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labor in all its forms.

At first, the 2025 goal seemed lofty, until I read that this issue has been closely monitored and assessed since 2000. Even still the road ahead is long. While research shows headway is being made to help stop child labor, the last four years highlight a dramatic slowing in progress according to the ILO. What’s worse, is that at the pace we are currently addressing this issue, the ILO estimates that by 2025 there will still be 121 million children in labor situations, with 52 million exposed to hazardous working conditions.

The extent of this issue is complex and even trickier to accurately track. My first assumptions were that labor situations meant an employer was keeping children in arduous and impossible working conditions. While this is true in some cases, third-party employers are not the biggest offenders. What shocked me most was the fact that the ILO reports that labor issues are primarily happening within families. Yes, you read that right: families. A lot of factors play into this, especially cultural difference and a family’s dependence on their children to divide workload responsibilities. However, the labor needs of children are still negatively impacting healthy development, education opportunities, and frankly their right to just be a child.

"The ILO estimates that by 2025 there will still be 121 million children in labor situations, with 52 million exposed to hazardous working conditions."

How and Where is it Happening?


There are many types of labor, but the largest form being utilized today is in agriculture with 108 million children being used in farming and livestock herding according to the ILO. These tasks can often be dangerous depending on the location and working conditions. Another large, but often under-reported area of work, includes domestic, household labor mostly carried out by girls. Research by the ILO shows that this type of work often extends beyond 21 hours a week, making educational opportunities difficult, if not impossible.

Though child labor is a global problem, research by the ILO shows that Africa and the Asia and the Pacific region rank the highest with this issue, with nine out of every ten children in a labor situation. Areas affected by natural disasters, armed conflict, and poverty all increase the chances significantly of children being brought into negative labor relationships. Although low-income areas are subject to this issue, many of the reports I read emphasize that high-income areas are not immune to the problem either. It’s not an isolated matter, it’s global challenge. And it’s happening on our watch.

How Do We Tackle 2025?


This is a heavy problem, and like most complex issues there isn’t a clear and easy solution. However, there are steps each of us can take, even in our day-to-day lives to positively move the needle forward on eradicating child labor. There are many approaches, but here are a few I’ve researched and adopted from the Institute of Human Education and the ILO:

  • Choose to purchase products, wherever feasible, that are certified as fair trade or sweat-shop free. Not sure how to recognize a fair-trade product? This guide by Fair Trade Winds breaks down the labeling, meaning and what to look for when you shop. Another option is considering buying secondhand items if you’re unsure of a new product’s origin.

  • Ask the hard questions. Don’t be afraid to ask your favorite retailers, brands or food establishments where they procure their products. Let them know your desire for better labeling and transparency. Putting pressure on businesses to be more informed of the origin of their products is helping shift our culture to put an end to issues like child labor.

  • Share Your Resources. Whether financially or through volunteer work, sharing your time and talents with well-established organizations addressing this problem is invaluable. This could mean giving of your time, donating money, or using your own skills to push us toward the 2025 goal.

  • Know the Checkpoints. This one is for companies, but also good to know as a consumer. The ILO created the document, “Checkpoints for Companies Eliminating and Preventing Child Labour,” which is extremely helpful in guiding employers in fair social practices and work opportunities.


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About the Author

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Michaela Judge is a military veteran and Southern transplant. As a Public Relations specialist by day, she is overjoyed to use her love of writing to help fight for freedom and justice through Dressember! Her favorite moments are spent with her husband, Phil, and daughter, Ellie, adventuring in Charleston, South Carolina, and spreading hospitality .