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12.05.2014 - News

When work is synonymous with exploitation

What is “child labor”?

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), “child labor” includes economic activities carried out by minors under the minimum required age or considered as the “worst forms of labor.” A child who only works a few hours a week in permitted light work or who is of legal age does not fall into this category.

The concept of “worst form of labor ‘is a subset of “child labor “. It includes activities that are dangerous to a child’s physical or mental health or moral development. An excessive workload (in terms of hours or intensity) is also considered to be a “worst form of labor”. There are 85 million children working in such conditions.

Who are these children?

Where do they work?

The agricultural sector employs the greatest number of children, mainly in small family-run farms. Most of the time, these children are not paid and assume tasks that can be exhausting and particularly dangerous.

The service sector also employs a large number of minors, particularly as domestic servants. Children, who are often very young, work in households performing all sorts of unpleasant chores for long hours and in contact with dangerous products. Physical, moral and even sexual abuse are not uncommon, and victims are frequently isolated and removed from any schooling. There are nearly 17 million child domestic servants, two- thirds of them girls, often younger than ten years old.

Although less affected by the phenomenon, the industrial sector still exploits a significant number of children. This is particularly the case in gold mines and rock quarries, where many small hands perform extremely hazardous work in cramped shafts, enduring suffocating heat and being exposed to toxic substances. Several South American and African countries, such as Peru and Burkina Faso, are affected by this worst form of labor.

Commercial sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation is one of the worst forms of using children for economic purposes. This is a serious violation of children’s rights, comparable to slavery. It includes the use of minors in sexual activities (paid or unpaid), commercial trafficking, production, promotion and distribution of pornography and the use of children in erotic entertainment.

The fight against sexual exploitation is part of a major component of Tdh’s protection program. In a program in Cartagena Colombia, Tdh helps to establish a judicial system that is fast and effective in reducing impunity for those who commit sexual crimes against children. Training courses have been introduced for actors in the justice system, children and community workers.

Migrant children

The phenomenon of migration is a central issue in the fight against child exploitation. Migration can be a positive experience for children that allows them to improve their living conditions and head towards a brighter future. Unfortunately, a migrant child is particularly vulnerable, especially when traveling alone, without identity and without protection. A migrant child may become subject to trafficking or abuse (violence, sexual abuse, isolation). Migrant children are often deprived of access to basic services (healthcare, education), and the salary they receive for their work is frequently very low or nonexistent. Migrant children live with the fear of being reported to the authorities, a factor that increases their vulnerability when faced with abuse.

Terre des hommes integrates the issue of migration into the core of its projects that fight against exploitation. For example, Tdh is involved in a cross-border project in West Africa (Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, Nigeria) designed to assist and protect nearly 15,000 children throughout their migration journey from point of departure to work site.

Child labor is not inevitable

Terre des hommes has been fighting against exploitive child labor for more than 50 years. Our Foundation takes concrete actions to protect and support children affected by this scourge through twenty projects in more than 15 countries.

Based on its expertise in the field, Terre des hommes has developed a pragmatic approach. It stands out from measures that too often rely exclusively on the outright prohibition of child labor, without taking into account the individual situation, the underlying causes of te phenomenon and especially without offering solutions to help families to find alternative sources of income. Tdh has chosen to intervene based on the evaluation of the actual working conditions of children and their best interests.

If the work done by children is harmful to their physical, mental or moral well-being , Tdh helps children to leave that work and find an alternative solution such as schooling or vocational training.

If a child’s work exposes him to one or more violations of fundamental rights, but the situation can be remedied, then priority is placed on ending the violations. Our Foundation aims to improve the living conditions of children in the workplace, seeking solutions in consultation with them, their employers and the state services. Children should be able to enjoy acceptable working conditions, decent wages and access to healthcare, education and recreation.

As long as an economic activity does not harm children, if it can be beneficial for their development, or if it is part of vocational training that does not violate their rights, then children should be supported so that they can carry out this activity under the best possible conditions.

Tdh also works upstream by implementing preventive measures. In addition to raising awareness among the general public about the dangers to which children in the workplace can be exposed, we help children who want to work to seek alternatives or to delay their entry into the world of work in order to minimize the risk of exploitation.

Finally, Tdh supports governments in strengthening policies against exploitation. These efforts include improving laws and their implementation as well as making basic services more effective (education, social services, health services, housing, accommodation facilities, recreation centers). This program involves a significant amount of advocacy work with governments.

Every year, Terre des hommes offers sustainable solutions and a better future for over two million children and their relatives. Help us protect these children – make a donation now.