Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

Child Labor and the Global Plight of Children

February 14, 2014

  Lauren Snell, Columban Volunteer

Today, there are 168 million child laborers worldwide and 85 million of these children continue to work in hazardous conditions, according to the International Labor Organization[1]. 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. In many cases children are subjected to threats and forms of abuse if they do not follow orders.

The great challenges lie in the root causes. In several developing countries, families have few options to support their livelihoods so child labor becomes a last resort. Moreover, once child labor becomes a pattern, it is difficult to reverse it, because children then have family members who are dependent on them for finances. Countless children are unable to go to school because they have to act as providers even though children should be provided for.

On a more grave note, many children become trafficked either due to being sold into forced labor or families being misled into sending their children elsewhere for better opportunities. According to United Nations Children’s Fund and the International Labor Organization projections, about 1.2 million children are victims of human trafficking today.[2] Economic justice for this vulnerable population ceases to exist because their inherent right to human dignity is ignored.

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 . . . rooted in the very nature of the human person.”

Despite these hard considerations, there is reason to be optimistic. This past October, both state and non-state actors assembled at the Third Global Conference on Child Labor held in Brazil. They recognized that there has been a significant drop of 47 million child laborers over the last four years and affirmed their commitment to continue to mobilize to meet the global goal of eradicating the worst forms of child labor by 2016. However, the problem will continue to exist if we cannot provide a way for education to reach those most isolated.[3]

Children have the right to grow and prosper and benefit from both community and educational support. We cannot allow ourselves to give less when we can provide more. Children can use the tools they obtain from education and strive for a future full of opportunities that their families had not had before. Through education, these children can be empowered to know they have value and should be respected. I pray that with a sense of cooperation, coordination, and community, decision-makers will be forced to open their eyes and take action in solidarity to create a powerful global reaction to protect all children’s dignity.

[1] Child Labor Coalition, Press Release: Child Labor Coalition Welcomes Falling Estimates of Child Labor But Warns That Far Too Many Children Suffer The Worst Forms Of Child Labor, 3 October 2013

[2] USCCB. Child Trafficking.

[3] Ibid