It can be accurately stated that along with women, children are the most abused group of people, and child labor is one of the most degrading and exploitive labor practices. The paper argues that Child labor is not only ethically wrong but also harms the Child’s health and has a detrimental on children’s lives. The paper presumes that the term child labor includes children of both genders.
About Child Labor
According to ILO (ILO, 18 October 2007), there are more than 250 million children worldwide who are made to work as child laborers. ILO has defined child labor as “When children under fifteen are made to do work that is physically or mentally harmful and which interrupts their education or social development”.
The minimum age for child labor differs from country to country and it is generally fixed between 14 and 15 years. The report by ILO says that almost 96% of these children belong to developing countries such as China, India, Latin America, and Africa.
The break up is that there are more than 60 million children in the age groups between five and eleven and children in the age group of 11 to 14 make up the rest. The report has listed a number of activities in which children are regularly employed and these include: domestic help, garment and apparel industry, scrap munitions recovery from defense firing ranges, open-pit mining, agriculture, sex trade, and child prostitution, trafficking, bonded labor, and many others.
Kovasevic (2007) has written that child labor is cheap as many children work for less than 10$ per month, putting in more than 12 hours of work every day, even on weekends. They are not fed properly and are beaten and chained when they cannot work or are too tired to do any physical work. Children also tend to be more docile and do not put up any resistance when subjected to beatings and being forced to work in sweaty and polluted environments. Iwanow (2005) has written that the real culprits are large retailers, apparel, and shoe manufacturers who find it very profitable when they outsource the work to third-world countries. Units that take up the outsourced work employ young children at very low rates and extended working hours to break even and make profits.
Harmful Effects of child labor on Health and Life Expectancy
The harmful effects of child labor are discussed in this section. There are two facets to this discussion: child labor mortality where children actually die during the years of employment and effects of intensive labor on the health of adults who have been working from the age of five.
Child labor Mortality Rates
Roggero (28 December 2006) has written about the mortality and dangers caused to the health and lives of children who have to work as child laborers. Among the sample surveys conducted by the authors, children suffer from diseases such as tuberculosis, undernourishment, malnutrition, respiratory problems, amputation of limbs, poisoning due to mercury, lead and toxic chemicals, and diseases of the skin. Children also fall prey to sexual predators such as supervisors, adult co-workers, business owners, HIV/ Aids, and others. Please refer to the following graph that shows incidences of mortality among child laborers.
The above graph shows the correlation between mortality among boys and girls aged 10 to 14 years and child labor prevalence. According to the study, it is obvious that mortality is as high as 2.5 in areas where the child labor prevalence is higher. What this means is that for every 1000 children employed, 25 children die because of adverse working conditions.
Health problems for young adults who worked as child laborers
Straub (October 2007) has conducted extensive research into the effects on the health of adults who worked as child laborers. The author comments that “the deleterious health effects of child labor might take time to produce and they are likely to become apparent later during the life of the individual”. While many of the health risks of child work threaten immediate damage to health, others are likely to develop over many years and might only become manifest in adulthood.
Exposures to pesticides, chemicals, dust, and carcinogenic agents increase the risk of developing bronchial complaints, cancers, and a wide variety of diseases. Individuals working in childhood are doubly vulnerable to chronic health problems—they are exposed to risk factors for longer periods and the biological process of rapid cell growth reduces the latency period of some diseases. Child work also has a long-term impact on health through forgone education, and subsequently reduced lifetime earnings and constrained knowledge of health production mechanisms. Evidence on the trade-off between child work and schooling is mixed but, on balance, supports the crowding-out hypothesis.
The following table provides results of a sample survey conducted by the authors on a group of young adults – men and females, who had worked as child laborers in plantations, mines, cities, and other areas. The sample size was 68.
Table 1. Health and other problems for young adults who worked as child laborers (Straub, October 2007).
|Health Problems||Percent Effected||Mortality|
|Chronic coughing, respiratory problems, diseases of lungs, tuberculosis and bronchitis||38||5|
|Skin diseases, eye sight problems, mental psychosis||42||6|
|Girl Child – HIV/ Aids, Sexual exploitation, prostitution||45||10|
|Boy Child – Crime in later life||35||12|
The above table shows the health problems and mortality among young adults who worked as child laborers. As it can be seen, 38% of adults suffered problems such as chronic coughing, respiratory problems, and others while 42 percent suffered from problems such as skin diseases, eyesight problems, mental psychosis, and so on. The data for girl children is much more alarming as almost 45 percent of the young adult females were sexually exploited and suffered from HIV/ Aids or had taken up prostitution. The study has also concluded that often children conceive due to lack of use of contraceptives and the severely malnourished girl children give birth to undernourished premature births and often the babies have congenital defects.
Other Reports of Child Labor and Health
Craig (17 December 2007) has stated that the pathetic working conditions of young children who work in the sweatshops of the Chinese toy industry. The authors have pointed out the in many of these units, rows, and rows of children, some younger than 10, work at tiny desks assembling toys. The workshops are placed in giant warehouse-like buildings with poor ventilation and where chemicals and toxins never escape. China produces 75 percent of the world’s toys with exports worth more than $15 billion a year. While fewer than 4 percent of the world’s children are American, they consume 40 percent of the world’s toys.
Boskabady (et all, October 2007) have reported about the respiratory problems caused to children who work in the carpet industry of Iran. The authors evaluated respiratory and allergic symptoms in 66 Iranian carpet weavers using a questionnaire including questions on work-related respiratory symptoms in the past year, allergies, smoking habits, and work exposure duration. A total of 28 carpet weavers or 42% reported work-related respiratory symptoms. Incidences of all respiratory symptoms and most allergic symptoms were significantly higher in carpet weavers than in controls. Moreover, most respiratory and allergic symptoms in carpet weavers were significantly more prominent during working hours.
Bhukuth (et all, 2006) have reported that the children of poor families often have to take up domestic help jobs or work in industries since the wages add to the income of the family. The father in such families is often an alcoholic and the mother herself goes out to work. Hence the child is forced to work from a very young age, forfeiting their childhood.
Associated Press (AP, 20 September 1998) has reported that even US industries are gross violators of child labor policies. The report points out that 80% of the Vineyards from California are guilty of violating labor policies related to fair salary, underage employment, violation of safety rules, and other aspects.
The paper has discussed the harmful effects on the health of children who work as child laborers. These children have a higher mortality rate and they also fall prey to diseases and ailments that cripple them when they become adults. Data has been presented and analyzed about the effects of intense labor on children and how it affects them.
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Boskabady Mohammad Hossein. Karimiani Ehsagh Ghayoor. Respiratory Symptoms and Pulmonary Function Changes among Carpet Weavers in Iran. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health. Volume 13. Issue 4. pp: 369-376.
Craig. Marc Kielburger. 2007. Children in China pay price for our cheap toys. Toronto Star Newspaper. pp: AA 2.
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Kovasevic Natasa. 2007. Child Slavery. Harvard International Review. Cambridge. pp: 36-40.
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Straub Roland. 2007. Does work during childhood affect the health of Guatemalan adults? Journal of Economic Household Health. Volume 5. pp: 83-94.