When Child Labor Becomes a “Tool for Profit”

Lauren Snell, CCAO Migration and Human Trafficking Intern
October 8, 2012

When Child Labor becomes a “Tool for Profit”

Lauren Snell

On September 26th, I had the great opportunity to sit in on an event called “Addressing the Global Development Challenge of Eliminating the Worst Forms of Child Labor” at the U.S. Department of Labor. The event focused on introducing three new child labor and forced labor reports that lead a conversation of how problems within the reports affect poverty reduction.  The speakers who promoted the benefits of these reports were Secretary Solis, Senator Tom Harkin, Gayle Smith, and Ian Solomon. Over the hour I spent listening to their hopes for institutions and individuals to make the “Worst Forms of Child Labor” a main priority in the eyes of the world stage.

This is because today, about 21 million people are trapped in forced labor and six million among them are children. These young people are forced to carry heavy loads, to go into dangerous mine shafts, and to use tools such as machetes to get work done. Even more serious is that in many cases, children are subjected to threats and forms of abuse if they do not follow orders. The reason I am capitalizing on children today is because they will be the products of the future; whatever happens in their childhood can foreshadow their destiny.  If we as one human family can change the course of their future, of filling potential lives with dignity and justice, how can we not take the initiative and start now?

The Catholic Church reaffirmed that “slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, [and] disgraceful working conditions where [people] are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons” are “infamies” and “an affront to fundamental values…values rooted in the very nature of the human person.”

In the world of such progress and innovation, it troubles me to think that some find others have no value as human beings and subject these people to that belief, seeing them as objects to gain income.  In a sense, Catholic Social Teaching would interpret these labor bosses/ traffickers selling off, abusing, or solely exploiting their own brothers and sisters. And what place does this kind of “value” have in this society?

Despite these hard considerations, the discussion today gave me optimism that society can fight against these issues through providing education to those who are subject to perpetual poverty.  This issue of perpetual poverty is both a cause and an effect of forced child labor. If a child is forced into labor because they are vulnerable members of society and impoverished, that child’s child is most likely to fall into the same system if there is no action to change his or her path to exploitation. Therefore, today’s speakers believe if education can reach the most vulnerable members of society, forced child labor along with its side effects like human trafficking can cease to exist; children can use the tools they obtain from education and strive to a future of opportunities that possibly their family had not had before. Through education, these children can be empowered to know they have value and should be respected for all that they are and all they want to be. I pray that with these new reports, decision-makers all over the world will be forced to open their eyes and take action to cause a powerful global reaction.