Stop child labor: Children deserve right to education

Imagine waking up early in the morning, having to walk miles to draw water, starving yourself to feed a younger kin and then setting off to work in a hazardous workplace. Then imagine all of that happening at the age of 10.

These are not children who were born in a more fortunate part of the world. Their daily struggle is not homework, but an earning enough to eat a meal that day.

Poverty, debts and family pressures compel these children to start working from a tender age. An overburden of weight is levied on their tiny shoulders from childhood.

They do not get the opportunity to attend school and receive an education. These children are forced to accept harsh realities early in their lives.

According to UNEVOC, 145 million of the world’s children aged 6 to 11 are out of school — 85 million of which are girls and 60 million boys. Additionally, 283 million children aged 12 to 17 are out of school — 151 million girls and 132 million boys.

The International Labor Organization reports that 168 million children around the world work as child labors. More than half of them are forced to work in hazardous environments, with the death counts of these children unaccounted for. An estimated 1 million children perform hazardous work in mines around the world.

Iqbal Masih, a former child slave in the carpet industry in Pakistan, was murdered for his international advocacy of child rights at the age of 13. His courage and determination continues to inspire children, activists and officials.

The deplorable 2012 shooting attack on 17-year-old education activist Malala Yousafzai by Taliban extremists goes to show the intensity of the fight against child labor.

CLC Co-Chair Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, said access to education is one of the keys to reducing child labor.

“That’s what Malala is fighting for, and that’s why her work has been so important,” Greenberg said. “According to the International Labor Organization’s latest statistics, the number of girls in child labor worldwide fell between 2004 and 2008 from 103 million to 88 million. We need to keep that progress up. We need to keep Malala’s vision alive and provide girls with unfettered access to education.”

Career choices are not a privilege given to these children. Most child labors are exploited for no payment or are under-paid for their manual work. Statistics show that six out of every 10 child laborers work in agriculture, most commonly working unpaid on family farms.

These children have limited exposure and opportunity for growth. A child whose basic rights to education and nutrition have been snatched due to financial reasons may have tendencies to commit crimes in later life. The chances of indulging in illegal activities and hire child labor themselves will be more likely.

In a seminal paper by Basu and Van (1998) called “The Economics of Child Labor” published by the American Economic Association, the researchers have remarkably proved that since adult wages are comparatively more, a ban on child labor can swing the economy from a bad to good equilibrium.

Each child who is deprived of basic necessities is one less literate person contributing to the world. They deserve their rights, and we can do our bit to save them.

Opinion columnist Aishwarya Gogoi is a petroleum engineering graduate student and may be reached at [email protected]

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