March 13, 2006
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Stolen Childhoods Teacher Resource Guide
by Petra Lent
Introduction to Child Labor
The economic exploitation of the children of the poor has a long and shameful history. While definitions of what constitutes child labor vary somewhat, especially concerning the age cutoff, child labor is generally considered to be work by a child that harms that child physically, psychologically, morally or by denying the child access to education and a chance to develop fully. Child labor is not odd jobs after school or apprenticeship programs, but hard unremitting labor that forecloses a child’s opportunities in life. The cost of child labor is structural poverty that stretches through the generations. A girl who is forced into child labor is not likely to have the resources to educate her own children, who will be forced into child labor in their turn.
Like the peculiar institution of slavery, child labor seemed an inevitable evil, too entrenched to change. Yet, little by little, social attitudes towards child labor have evolved to the point where there is now broad international consensus that child labor is unacceptable, that it damages individuals, societies and countries, and that it must be eliminated. (See a brief history of child labor laws in the Appendix)
In 1956, as part of the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery adopted by the United Nations, child labor was identified as a form of slavery for the first time. In 1959, the United Nations proclaimed the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. In 1973, the United Nations adopted The Minimum Age Convention 138, to establish a minimum age at which children can work (full text http://www.ilo.org/ilolex/cgi-lex/convde.pl?C138 Convention 138 has been ratified by 142 countries, but the United States is not among them. A more narrowly focused instrument, The Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention 182 (full text at http://www.ilo.org/ilolex/cgi-lex/convde.pl?C182, was adopted in 1999 and ratified by 157 countries, including the U.S.
There is not a country in the world without some form of law against child labor on the books. India, which bears the dubious distinction of the greatest absolute number of child laborers in the world, first enacted legislation against child labor upon gaining independence in 1949. In sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest proportion of children in child labor, communities clearly understand the link between sending children to work instead of school and intractable poverty and lack of opportunity.
Why then, are some 246 million children still mired in child labor?
Child labor exists because it is profitable in the short term. In the short term, the family can eat, a powerful motivator. In the short term, small businesses turn a profit and police turn a blind eye. In the short term, a country’s economy relies on the cheap labor of disposable kids. In the short term, consumers buy $9 jeans at discount stores. That’s not a real world price – that’s a price made possible only by the economic clout of the United States and other First World countries. It is a price made possible by other people’s poverty.
But what about the long term? In the long term, the poverty that made child labor necessary for survival becomes endemic. In the long term, countries whose economy is based on the labor of children have used up their future and will remain economically marginal and tenuous. In the long term, the overly advantageous trading conditions that benefit Western consumers carry a hidden price tag in lack of security, political instability and the spread of disease. Leaving the moral and spiritual arguments against child labor to one side for a moment, economically child labor makes no sense.
Clearly, condemning child labor is easy. Changing the conditions that make child labor the only possible choice a family has is more complicated. But it is doable.
“Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral.”
Bertolt Brecht Three-Penny Opera
…which can be loosely translated to mean that people have to have enough to eat before you can preach to them about morality. The actual word Brecht uses, is, of course, much ruder.
It has become increasingly obvious that passing laws against child labor is necessary…but not sufficient. A more nuanced approach is required to come to grips with the root causes of child labor. Merely pulling children out of the workforce without addressing the poverty of their parents, ends up victimizing poor families more. When parents earn less than a living wage, feel-good measures like declaring a single factory or even a single industry child labor-free are essentially meaningless and even detrimental. Those children will end up working somewhere out of sight…and out of mind.
ILO/IPEC attempted an initiative to eliminate child labor in the soccer ball industry in Pakistan. See “From Stitching to School” about the Sialkot soccer ball program (ILO) at http://www.ilo.org/public/english/standards/ipec/. The Sialkot program enlisted and built up local resources and NGOs to help manage public information and monitoring, making the effort sustainable and locally-based. Some of the child laborers could be mainstreamed into the existing educational system, but informal schools were set up for others, along with apprenticeship programs and income generating programs for their families. Health care was also provided as part of the program. Child labor was eliminated from the soccer ball industry in Sialkot for the most part, but soccer balls continue to be made by children in villages far away from the inspectors based in Sialkot. For an independent evaluation of the Sialkot project by Pharis Harvey at the ILRF (Foulball Campaign) see http://www.laborrights.org/projects/foulball/foulball.html.
Unfortunately, child labor is very much like the Lernaean hydra – chop off one head and two more grow in its place. Piecemeal initiatives tend to do no more than displace child labor to other locales and other people.
International Labor Organization (ILO). 1999 Targeting the Intolerable: A New International Convention to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor. Geneva: ILO
International Labor Organization (ILO). 2004 Investing in every child: An economic study of the costs and benefits of eliminating child labor. Geneva: ILO
UNICEF summary on child labor http://www.unicef.org/protection/index_childlabour.html
UNICEF 2000 “Undeclared War.” In The State of the World’s Children 2000. New York: UNICEF, 2000
UNICEF 2001 “Our Promise.” In The State of the World’s Children 2001. New York: UNICEF, 2001
“Child Labour” on Antislavery website at http://www.antislavery.org/homepage/antislavery/childlabour.htm#how
UNESCO Education For All Global Monitoring Report
Slavery is not something that was abolished and done with in the nineteenth century. One of the most common forms of modern slavery is bonded labor. It works like this: a family might have a health emergency or other unforeseen need and borrows a small sum of money. They have no assets to guarantee repayment, but they do have children. So one of the children goes to work for the creditor to pay back the loan. The problem is that that child’s living expenses, the clothes on her back, even the bed she sleeps in, gets charged against her work, the value of which is, of course, set by the creditor. Instead of paying down the loan, the debt gets heavier the longer the child works. There is no escape, and the child is enslaved. The United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery estimated that there were 20 million people held in bonded labor throughout the world in 1999. The children making mud bricks at the kiln and carrying stone in the stone quarry in Orissa are being used as collateral for small loans to their families.
For more information on rescue and rehabilitation operations conducted by the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude, see the website for Bachpan Bachao Andolan http://bbasaccs.org/.
Microfinance is one way to combat bonded labor. Information on the groundbreaking Grameen Bank from its beginnings in Bangladesh in 1976 can be found at http://www.grameen-info.org/
The Grameen Bank has been so successful (they have a 98.91% repayment rate for their loans), that they have inspired a number of other organizations. See also the website for Accion International, the oldest microfinance organization, which began lending small sums of money to the poor in Brazil in the 1970s, at http://www.accion.org/. Accion International operates in 20 countries, including the United States.
According to an ILO report, A Global Alliance Against Forced Labor (2005) there are another 12.3 million people in forced labor, illegally recruited by governments, political parties or private businessmen and threatened with violence if they do not work. Marihot, the boy pressganged onto a fishing platform (jermal) in the Sea of Sumatra, was a victim of forced labor. His situation was also complicated by religious prejudice – Marihot was Christian in a predominantly Muslim area, and much of the mistreatment he suffered at the hands of the foreman on the jermal may have been motivated by religious bias. Using children on jermals is against the law in Indonesia, but the jermal owners regularly pay off the Indonesian Navy, the only authorities who conduct occasional sweeps of the jermals.
A good compilation of child labor statistics in Indonesia can be downloaded at http://www.globalmarch.org/resourcecentre/world/indonesia.pdf
“Caught in the Net” AsiaWeek June 30, 1999 http://www.asiaweek.com/asiaweek/99/0730/sr1.html
The carpet industry still struggles with the issue of child labor, despite years of adverse publicity and several labelling initiatives. In addition to the best-known program Rugmark, the Indian government also has a labelling program, Kaleen. Rugmark, which is the first and most comprehensive of the labelling initiatives, runs rehabilitation centers for former child weavers their inspectors find at the looms. After many years of progress, conditions in Nepal have deteriorated due to a civil war between the government and Marxist rebels, and Rugmark inspectors have noticed a very serious uptick in the number of children found at work in clandestine looms in Nepal as a result.
The Rugmark website has a very good Child Labor FAQs section, as well as occasional reports back from the field. Rugmark operates in India, Nepal and Pakistan. See http://www.rugmark.org/index.html
General reference articles on bonded and forced labor:
“Children as Barter in Famished Land” New York Times 19 April 2002 reprinted in Indigenous People of Africa and America http://www.ipoaa.com/afghan_children__used_as_barter.htm
Trafficked Children Case Studies (ILO)
Good intro on Antislavery International website “Bonded Labor” at http://www.antislavery.org/homepage/campaign/bondedinfo.htm
“What is modern slavery?” http://www.antislavery.org/homepage/antislavery/modern.htm
Inside the Home, Outside the Law” report on domestic child labor Human Rights Watch 2005 http://hrw.org/reports/2005/morocco1205/
See also a good general HRW backgrounder on child domestic labor http://hrw.org/english/docs/2004/06/10/africa8789_txt.htm
Brazil has succeeded in cutting child labor in half in seven years, from four million to two million children, largely as a result of a very simple idea proposed by a professor at the University of Brasilia, Cristovam Buarque. He reasoned that if the families of child laborers were reimbursed for the loss of their children’s income, the children could go (and stay) in school. The stipend, which is paid to the mother, is contingent on all children in the family attending school (no more than two days a month may be missed, or the family loses the stipend). The amount of money is small, yet significant, and has the collateral effect of stimulating economic activity in poor communities. Similar means-tested (meaning only for families under a certain level of income) conditional cash transfer programs have been started in other countries as well.
For a simple explanation of Bolsa Escola, see
A more detailed discussion of the Bolsa as a development strategy can be found in Christian Andrew Denes’ article “Bolsa Escola: Redefining Poverty and Development in Brazil” (Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs) International Education Journal Vol 4, No 2, 2003
Coffee in Kenya – World Bank and IMF structural adjustment programs
Kenya is struggling with the effects of colonialism, misrule and corruption and misguided prescriptions for liberalizing the economy by international donors through the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In the 1980s, the notoriously corrupt government of longtime Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi accepted a series of structural adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank and the IMF as a condition for receiving loans. Structural adjustment programs were intended to improve Kenya’s foreign investment climate by eliminating trade barriers, promoting exports and reducing government deficits through spending cuts. Kenya duly cut spending on education and health care, so as to prove itself creditworthy in the eyes of donor nations and the IMF and World Bank. The unintended effect of the so-called SAPs was however, to plunge the people of Kenya into even greater poverty than before, while allowing the corrupt ruling classes to siphon off significant amounts of money from loans and development aid to Kenya. The World Bank imposed a cost-sharing educational system on Kenya, which had previously had free primary education. Under cost-sharing, the Kenyan Government paid for school buildings and teacher and administrative salaries. All other costs, including building maintenance, entrance fees, uniforms, books etc. became the responsibility of the parents. The result? School enrollment dropped by 35%.
The other factor contributing to a massive increase in child labor under Moi were the “retrenchments” or lay-offs required by the SAPs, which increased unemployment and forced former civil service employees (and their children) back on the land to try and make some money as migrant laborers.
Cuts in health care and the AIDS epidemic were also major factors in sending millions of Kenyan children into the workforce. According to UNICEF estimates, there are 1.7 million AIDS orphans in Kenya.
As a direct consequence of these conditions, children make up as much as 58% of the workforce on coffee plantations during peak season, and 18% during the rest of the year, according to one estimate. (“Bitter Harvest”, ILO ACTRAV)
Daniel arap Moi stepped down in 2002 and President Mwai Kibaki prevailed in the election against Moi’s protégé, Uhuru Kenyatta. Kibaki had campaigned on a promise to restore free primary education to Kenya, which he did in 2003. There are efforts underway to make primary education compulsory as well as free. School enrollment is up by 26% (Oxfam), but the economic damage to the Kenyan school system that was an unintended consequence of the early structural adjustment policies has taken years to repair, and corruption is still a blight on the Kenyan economy as a whole. Kenya is left with a crushing load of debt service for funds that were in large part stolen.
For a union initiative to fight child labor on the coffee plantations see the Solidarity Center East Africa Plantation Project at http://www.stopchildlabor.org/internationalchildlabor/PlantationProject.htm
For a discussion of the IMF and the Millennium Development Goals see “From ‘Donorship’ to Ownership”
See also the 2005 Oxfam report “Walk the Talk: A call to action to save coffee farmers’ livelihoods” at http://www.oxfam.org/en/policy/briefingpapers/pp030508_coffee_ico_wb
Municipal Dumps in Indonesia and Brazil
One of the economic activities of last resort for the very poor is picking over trash in municipal landfills to find anything that can be recycled and resold. Families end up living in or near the dump, breathing in the fumes, clambering over mountains of unstable trash. Children fall into sinkholes, and develop infections and food poisoning from rotten food they find in the landfill.
The Bekasi landfill in Jakarta, Indonesia is one of the largest landfills in the world. Microsoft partnered with local NGOs to undertake an initiative to help the hundreds of children living and working at Bekasi. Through the Dinamika Indonesia Foundation, Gates established a school with computers for the use of the scavenger’s kids. The program included both children from the dump and streetchildren. 225 children were trained on computers and are now able to sell their skills to generate income. Unfortunately, in the absence of an integrated public policy of poverty reduction, the presence of the school at the dump also acted as a magnet for poor families, who wanted to give their children access to this opportunity. There are now more families living at the dump than before, and their isolation from the downtown areas where their skills could be put to use limits their abilities to make money that way.
Brazil took a different approach to the problem of families living at dumpsites. In connection with a public information campaign of television commercials, municipal and state governments began closing landfills down and replacing them with recycling associations. Former scavenger families now work for the association, sorting trash in sheds, while their children go to school and after-school enrichment programs (PETI) paid for by the government. A significant proportion of the scavengers’ income used to go to middlemen, but the recycling associations have the clout and the volume to negotiate directly with buyers of recycled materials.
For a very cogent compilation of meticulously footnoted poverty facts, see http://www.globalissues.org/TradeRelated/Facts.asp
For the Unicef “State of the World’s Children 2006” Report, see http://www.unicef.org/sowc06/
Trafficking and the Use of Children in the Sex Trade
By its nature, trafficking is one of the most difficult crimes to quantify. Nevertheless, the ILO estimates that 1.2 million children have been trafficked. By far the greatest number of them are put to work in the sex trade. Often the children are tricked by a friend of the family or an acquaintance into accepting an apparently legitimate job offer abroad or in a distant city – as a waitress, a chambermaid or a domestic. Some are kidnapped. Once they are in the power of the traffickers, their travel documents are taken away, and the promised job turns out to be prostitution. They are threatened with beatings or worse, if they try to escape. Occasionally, the police have been paid off by the brothel owners and simply return the girls to the brothel, if they do manage to get away. Far from home, alone and afraid, very few children manage to make their predicament understood in a foreign language. If they do escape from their tormentors, cultural prejudice against women and girls often makes it impossible for them to return to their villages, once they have been raped.
Nicholas Kristof has written a number of articles on trafficking and child prostitution. See “Hitting Brothel Owners Where It Hurts” New York Times January 24th 2006 http://select.nytimes.com/2006/01/24/opinion/24kristof.html?hp
For older students, Lukas Moodysson’s film Lilya 4-Ever(2002) is a terrific indictment of child trafficking
“Profiting From Abuse” Unicef 2001 is a very good report on commercial sexual exploitation of children
“Unbearable to the Human Heart” ILO 2002 report on child trafficking and action taken against it.
“Easy Targets: Violence Against Children Worldwide” 2001 Human Rights Watch at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/children/index.htm
The ILO considers street children at risk for the worst forms of child labor. Not only are they forced to engage in survival sex to get something to eat, but they are often pressed into service by gangs as drug-runners and lookouts. Family dysfunction, in other words, abuse by stepfathers, mother’s boyfriends and fathers, is the most common factor cited by street kids in Mexico City as the reason they ended up running away from home.
Because the phenomenon of street children is a little different from country to country, the shelter/rehabilitation programs that attempt to redress the problem differ also. Casa Alianza, the program profiled in Mexico City, is a relatively conventional and narrowly focused shelter program, with street counselors who attempt to approach the children and get to know them as a way of persuading them to enter the shelter, where they are housed, given medical care and drug counseling, fed and put into apprenticeship programs and jobs, as a way of eventually becoming self-sufficient. As a Catholic charity, Casa Alianza elects not to offer contraception to the children, though they do offer medical and daycare support for the babies that are born as a result. Many of the street counselors however, recognizing the problem in trying to save street children without addressing the fact that they are having unprotected sex, buy condoms with their own money and hand them out to the kids.
See the Casa Alianza website at http://www.casa-alianza.org/es/index.php which has an extensive section with reports on street kids and trafficking, many of them in English.
In Nairobi, by far the greatest number of street kids are there because of AIDS, which has cut a devastating swath through the social networks that used to keep people afloat. The average educated African supports 14 to 18 people on his or her salary – when such a person dies of AIDS, the bottom drops out for a large group of people, who have no other resources and no one else to turn to.
The Undugu Society, which was started in Nairobi in 1974, has a much broader ambition. Undugu defines its mission as “education, employment creation, informal skills training, shelter improvement, community health, infrastructure development and other related activities all aimed at empowering the target groups.” Undugu runs reception centers for children who have decided to come in from the street, informal schools for street children, and apprenticeships and job training programs, not just for the street children, but also for the devastated families and communities from which they came.
See the Undugu Society website at http://www.undugukenya.org/undugu/index.php
Indigenous Migrants in Mexico
The Mexican division of the cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris (now Altria) is among the most profitable in the company. These profits are based upon a significant power imbalance in the Mexican tobacco industry. Along with British American Tobacco, Philip Morris buys 90% of the tobacco grown in the tobacco fields of Nayarit. The multinationals deal with middlemen, small producers who have little to no leverage with the tobacco companies. This allows the tobacco companies to keep labor costs artificially low without having direct dealings with the migrant laborers picking the crop. There’s no paper trail, and Philip Morris and BAT aren’t the ones doing the hiring anyway. The tobacco is harvested by extended family groups of Huichol Indians migrating to Nayarit for the growing season. The piecework rates offered by the tobacco farmers are predicated on the participation of the entire family. The presence of Huichol children picking tobacco is an open secret – the company representatives touring the tobacco fields would have to be deaf and blind to be unaware that children are picking their tobacco.
This is a bad thing for all the usual reasons why child labor is not a good idea, and a few more as well. When they are exposed to pesticides, children develop cancer far more often than adults. The Huichol families in particular live out in the fields in which they work – exposure to the pesticides is unremitting. It’s in the air, it’s on the skin, it’s in the water they drink. The pesticides are provided by the company – but the workers are given no safety equipment or even instructions on how to avoid unsafe exposure. The warnings on the packaging don’t register, which may have something to do with the fact that they are written in English and Spanish.
In 2000, BAT and Philip Morris financed the building of a school, Florece, for the migrant Huichol children, providing education, a hot lunch and showers. The Mexican government absorbs the day-to-day costs of running the center. The hot lunch is certainly a good thing – 98.7% of Huichol migrant girls and 100% of boys are underweight and 25% of the children suffer from malnutrition, according to a five-year study by Patricia Díaz Romo and Samuel Salinas Álvarez, Plaguicidas, tabaco y salud.
But it’s not unfair to point out that Florece delivers a lot of bang for the public relations buck and that the children could more effectively be removed from the fields by paying their parents a decent wage.
For a very insightful thesis on the unconscious racism inherent in the Mexican government’s development plans vis à vis the Huichol indigenous communities, see Diana Negrín’s Moving Towards a New Relation: The Struggle to Preserve Huichol Self-Sufficiency in the Face of the Developmentalist Politics of the Mexican State (2004)
Child Labor Right Here in these United States…
800,000 children migrate with their families during the growing season and pick crops in all over the United States. A breathtaking statistic. Because of a quaint exemption originally intended to protect small family farms, the employment of children in agriculture is not illegal, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Yet agriculture is right up there with mining in the high rates of occupational injury and death. As in Mexico, the family groups are scattered in far-flung fields, making labor organizing something of a pipe dream. The growing season in the United States generally runs from April through November, meaning that the children working in the fields are missing five months of school. Not surprisingly, 60% of child migrant laborers drop out of school, unable to keep up with the work. Under the circumstances, it’s fairly amazing that any of the children manage to graduate at all.
The general perception is that the children working in the fields, if any, must be illegal immigrants, and therefore somehow less our responsibility. Not so. Most of the kids are U.S. citizens, children of legal immigrants. And the vicious cycle of poverty in which their families are caught perpetuates itself with every new generation that fails to complete high school and go to college.
The MET program profiled in the film was an attempt to break that cycle and catch kids that had fallen through the cracks, offer remedial instruction and help in getting a GED, applying to college, even support programs for kids in college. It’s not as easy as you might imagine for kids of the first generation to find their way in college. Loneliness, disorientation and confusion are part of everyone’s college experience, but they’re especially intense for kids with no family experience of American higher education.
Unfortunately, since the film was completed, the Bush Administration has succeeded in defunding programs for immigrants and migrant laborers. The MET centers have closed.
What can we do here? We’re all in agreement that this is intolerable.
Poverty is not a given, but the result of certain policy decisions and omissions. It’s a complicated, but not insoluble problem. In the words of Cristovam Buarque, “All that is needed is for the world to want to do it.”
Ending Extreme Poverty by 2015 – The Millennium Development Goals
In 2000 the United Nations proclaimed the Millennium Development Goals (full text and additional information at http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/. The so-called MDGs are a time-bound undertaking by the international community of nations to cut poverty in half by the year 2015. The MDGs identify eight separate but interrelated goals that must be met to cut poverty in half. They represent an attempt to go beyond single-issue Band-Aid thinking and address the nexus of circumstances that keep people and countries in poverty.
For an in-depth look at the UN Millennium Project, see the website of the Earth Institute at Columbia University http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/millennium_project.html.
We show compassion abroad, because Americans believe in the God-given dignity and worth of a villager with HIV/AIDS or an infant with malaria or a refugee fleeing genocide or a young girl sold into slavery. We also show compassion abroad because regions overwhelmed by poverty, corruption and despair are sources of terrorism, organized crime, human trafficking and the drug trade.
In recent years, you and I have taken unprecedented action to fight AIDS and malaria, expand the education of girls and reward developing nations that are moving forward with economic and political reform. For people everywhere, the United States is a partner for a better life. Shortchanging these efforts would increase the suffering and chaos of our world, undercut our longterm security and dull the conscience of our country. President Bush, State of the Union address 2006
Fine words, but the actual record shows a very different picture. If private charity and government development aid are lumped together, U.S. citizens give less than .025% of their income for poverty reduction, or 22¢ per $100 of income – dead last among developed nations. Much of U.S. aid is conditional and earmarked for U.S. consultants operating in the target country. President Bush is very fond of alluding to U.S. aid and promising more, but his extravagant promises are met with strained smiles from the recipients of his verbal generosity in view of the fact that much of the money previously pledged has somehow failed to materialize. Of $5 billion per year pledged to the Millennium Development fund, $400,000 has actually been disbursed so far. In contrast, the Scandinavian countries along with Belgium and Luxembourg already exceed the 2015 target of donating 70¢ per $100 of income towards poverty reduction, while Italy, France, Germany and the UK are on track to meet it.
For a truly scathing summary of American pledges versus how much has actually been spent on poverty reduction, internationally and domestically, see the chapter on “The World’s Greatest Challenge in the New Millennium” in Jimmy Carter’s book Our Endangered Values (2005).
Understandably impatient with the rate of progress on the Millennium Development Goals so far, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, director of the UN Millennium Project, has set up a private initiative that has been very effective. Two villages were selected as pilot projects for lifting communities up out of extreme poverty within five years, one in Sauri, Kenya and one in Korare, Ethiopia. See the Millennium Villages Project at http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/mvp/
In the Trafficking and Bonded Labor sections, I relied very heavily on the excellent curricula developed at the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights/Child Labor Research Initiative. Thanks to Chivy Sok and Burns Weston for their assistance.
The information provided by Patricia Díaz Romo (Huicholes y Plaguicidas) in her framing interview for Stolen Childhoods was invaluable for the tobacco section.
Appendix to Stolen Childhoods Teacher Resource Guide
Once upon a time there was a little chimney-sweep, and his name was Tom. That is a short name, and you have heard it before, so you will not have much trouble in remembering it. He lived in a great town in the North Country, where there were plenty of chimneys to sweep, and plenty of money for Tom to earn and his master to spend. He could not read nor write, and did not care to do either; and he never washed himself, for there was no water up the court where he lived…He cried half his time, and laughed the other half. He cried when he had to climb the dark flues, rubbing his poor knees and elbows raw; and when the soot got into his eyes, which it did every day in the week; and when his master beat him, which he did every day in the week; and when he had not enough to eat, which happened every day in the week likewise. And he laughed the other half of the day, when he was tossing halfpennies with the other boys, or playing leap-frog over the posts, or bowling stones at the horses' legs as they trotted by, which last was excellent fun, when there was a wall at hand behind which to hide. As for chimney-sweeping, and being hungry, and being beaten, he took all that for the way of the world, like the rain and snow and thunder, and stood manfully with his back to it till it was over, as his old donkey did to a hailstorm. Charles Kingsley The Water-Babies (1919)
A Brief History of Child Labor Laws
1833 Britain prohibits work for children under the age of 9 and limits work for older children (this was the same year that Charles Dickens began his career as a writer of fiction. In 1824, at the age of 12, Dickens was sent to work for some months at a blacking factory, Hungerford Market, London, while his father John was in Marshalsea debtors’ prison.
1836 Massachusetts adopts the first American Child Labor Reform law
1839 Prussia passes law regulating child labor
1840 France introduces legislation on child work
1843 India abolishes slavery
1870 Compulsory full-time schooling introduced in Great Britain
1919 International Labour Organization (ILO) established as part of the Peace Treaty of Versailles. First International Labour Convention on minimum age of admission to employment adopted
1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly
1949 India introduces legislation to ban child labor
1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery adopted by the United Nations. The Supplementary Convention identifies child labor as a form of slavery for the first time.
1959 United Nations proclaims Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
1973 New comprehensive international instruments on minimum age of admission to employment – Convention 138 and Recommendation 146 – adopted by International Labour Conference
1979 International Year of the Child. United Nations begins drafting a convention on the rights of the child. International Labour Conference adopts resolution on the progressive elimination of child labor and transitional measures.
1989 United Nations adopts Convention on the Rights of the Child.
1991 ILO creates IPEC, an action program to protect working children and to combat and eliminate child labor.
1993 Convention on the Rights of the Child ratified by 128 Member States (not the United States).
Adoption of the United Nations Program of Action for the Elimination of Exploitation of Child Labor by the Commission on Human Rights.
2000 Millennium Goals proclaimed by the United Nations.
2005 Failure to meet Millennium Goals proclaimed by the UN.
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