Economic crisis pushing more children into forced labour

Published 18 May 2009
|PIC1|The global economic crisis is forcing more children around the world into the worse forms of child labour, international relief and development organisation World Vision warns.

"Poverty drives people to desperate measures. And in dire situations, children become one of two things: a source of income or a drain on the income," Jesse Eaves, World Vision's policy adviser for children in crisis and a son of missionaries, told The Christian Post.

As demand from the West falls and the number of export-driven jobs decreases amid the economic downturn, businesses in countries like Cambodia, India and Thailand are likely to lay off workers without advanced warning, thus forcing families to find other income sources through their children.

In Cambodia, Eaves noted, 72 per cent of children in brick factories say they are there because their parents cannot afford to buy food and 22 per cent say their parents forced them to work to pay off debt.

In Phuket, Thailand, World Vision reported a dramatic increase in local and migrant children searching for work in tourist bars and clubs.

On the east coast of India, children are making gravel, smashing rocks in temperatures of nearly 40 degrees celsius for up to 16 hours a day, noted Eaves, who visited Southeast Asia earlier this year to examine the problems on the ground.

Already, 126 million children in the world are working in hazardous conditions and 1.2 million are trafficked and exploited every year as child labourers, Eaves pointed out. Sexual exploitation is the most common form of human trafficking followed by forced labour and child soldiers.

"Many families are naive when recruiters come to their home and promise their 14-year-old daughter a wonderful job in the city," Eaves said. "Often, they fall into slavery and are forced to pay off an imaginary debt to keep them in bondage. But [the recruiters] often send money back to the parents so the parents think she's making money."

Families are also digging a deeper hole when they send children to work. Children earn 20 per cent less than the average labourer, said Eaves.

"So child labour causes poverty and poverty causes child labour. It's a dangerous spiral downward."

One way to break the cycle is to educate the community. World Vision is running programmes to educate children about their basic rights and on national laws regarding child labour. The children then inform their peers as well as their parents, turning their communities into a near "intelligence network", Eaves said.

Through the word-of-mouth network, attitudes toward child labour begin to change and women and children come out saying "we will not tolerate this anymore", Eaves explained.

They soon gain the support of local and national government officials and employers.

Families are further directed to obtain microcredit loans and start their own businesses.

"It's all about working with communities, changing their attitudes and the way they look at how they can earn a sustainable living," Eaves said.

People in the West also can play a major role in tackling child labour and exploitation.

"The key thing to understand with child labour is it begins and ends with you and me," Eaves said. "It's all about demand. We're part of the problem and part of the solution."

He added: "In Cambodia, in the same way they'll stand up and say they won't tolerate this, we can do the same thing."

World Vision is urging all government agencies and non-governmental organisations to include child-specific interventions in all economic development and stimulus plans.

"Right now it's appropriations time. A lot of money is being allocated. We're calling for US policy and foreign assistance to continue to take a child-focused approach," Eaves said.


On the web: www.worldvision.org/seekjustice

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