Child Labor

at 12:35 AM

Although most countries have laws against child labor, and it is banned by United Nations' conventions, at least 200 million children aged 5 to 15 are now at work in 71 countries, including the United States. They make up as much as one-third of the workforces in some of the countries.

Many work in slave-like conditions for up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, on farms, in mines, in factories and elsewhere to produce goods for sale here and elsewhere. Or they work in hard, poorly paying menial service jobs.

Most must work, whatever the conditions, if their families are to survive. Among them are children sold into bondage by starving parents or put to work to pay off loans made to their parents.

Many are forced to live in cramped, dirty housing compounds near their workplaces, some as virtual prisoners forbidden to leave without passes from their overseers.

The youngsters' childhood is denied them. They have little time for play and none for schooling. Like their parents, they are doomed to a life of hard work under abysmal and often dangerous conditions, a life of poverty, ignorance and exploitation.

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It could be better for them if the United States would use its great economic strength to challenge the growth of child labor in negotiating trade agreements. At the least, the U.S. could make its agreement to trade pacts contingent on its trading partners cracking down on child labor.

As it stands now, that seems unlikely. And without strong U.S. support, nothing meaningful is likely to be done to  stem the steady growth of child labor.

Which leaves it to consumers -- people like you and me who buy the products of child labor -- to find out just what those goods are and refuse to buy them, and to let President Obama, Congress and those who sell the goods know that we are refusing to buy them, and will continue to do so as long as children are used to make them.

For guidance, the U.S. Labor Department keeps a list of nations and products associated with child labor on its website.

You can be sure that if we don't act, no one else will. Only we can save the children.

With a Perspective, this is Dick Meister.

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Dick Meister is a veteran labor journalist.

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