Long hours. Extreme temperatures. Heavy loads carried miles. Dangerous tools. Exposure to poisons. It is unfortunately not surprising that many in our world daily experience treacherous working conditions. Perhaps the real surprise, however, is that many of these workers are children!
According to the International Labor Organizations, approximately 215 million children worldwide work in dangerous and even inhumane work environments. UNICEF reports that there are 150 million children between the ages of 5–14 in these types of work situations. The majority of these workers are found in Sub Saharan Africa, Asia Pacific, and Latin America.
In addition to the physical dangers, these children are often underpaid and prevented from going to school. Even worse, many of the children are forced into labor, which according to the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, includes children who are not only too young to choose to work, but children who are pledged to work by their parents for payment of debt. Some victims of forced child labor are even kidnapped or lured away to work in sweatshops or brothels.
Although today the labor of American children is regulated, we are prime participants in the global problem of forced child labor. Many of the products we import and consume use inappropriate child labor. A few items on this list of imports include cocoa, cotton products, soccer balls, and tires. The list of industries is much longer however with forced child labor in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, domestic services, and even prostitution and illegal drug trafficking.
How can we make a difference in this global crisis? As believers, we are called to act on behalf of the oppressed (Matt. 25:40) and to be good (global) neighbors (Matt. 19:19).
1. Pray. Consider the Week of Prayer suggestions below.
2. Get educated. Organizations like UNICEF and the International Labor Rights Forum give basic information about the problem and products of forced child labor. The Bureau of International Labor Affairs gives detailed information on the places and types of labor used for various products around the world.
3. Shop wisely. Look for opportunities to purchase fair trade items from organizations like WorldCraftsSM. If you are a consumer of some of the products listed, look for ways to substitute these products for ones whose labor practices are better regulated.
4. Become an advocate. Organizations like the Labor Rights Forum and UNICEF give ideas on ways to become an advocate for victims of forced child labor.
Week of Prayer for Victims of Forced Child Labor
Day 1: Pray for the children and families affected by these practices.
Day 2: Pray for changed hearts of those oppressing them.
Day 3: Pray for the wisdom of those positioned to change these practices.
Day 4: Pray for our world economy.
Day 5: Pray for the poor around the world forced into desperate situations.
Day 6: Pray for our open minds and hearts as we seek ways to make a difference.
Day 7: Pray for ministries like ProjectHELPSM and WorldCrafts to those who are being exploited around the world.
Tracey Allred lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with her husband and three children.