Child Labor and Modern-day Slavery
By KRISTEN STERNBERG
NIE EDUCATIONAL CONSULTANT
Laws to safeguard citizens' rights differ from nation to nation. Most countries have statutes to address basic human rights. In the United States, one of our rights is the freedom to speak our opinions-freedom of speech. Here, also, children are guaranteed the right to a free, public education. In addition, all people, including children, are protected by law against forced labor. While laws may not stop people from abusing the rights of others, they are a deterrent because they provide a means for abusers to be punished. These and other laws give us what we consider basic human rights. With similar laws in place around much of the world, controversial issues such as slavery and forced labor must certainly be a thing of the past – or are they?
Keeping kids safe
Shad, 7, and Cheyenne, 5, check out their digital photos and thumbprints made by Court TV Saturday as part of a Bright House Network Safety Challenge program. (Photo: News-Journal/Mary L. Schropp)
According to the United Nations, they are not. Forced labor and slavery still exist in some areas. At least one form of human rights abuse, called human trafficking, is spreading across the world. Traffickers lure people to sign up voluntarily for jobs (usually in faraway places), and then trick them when they arrive, telling them they can't leave until they pay off their "expenses." The new arrivals don't understand that the expenses are made up, and they are trapped into staying to work off these debts. This type of forced labor, according to a recent newspaper article, is dangerously on the rise.
Extreme poverty contributes to trafficking. If people are facing starvation, they can be pretty desperate. All too often, the victims of forced labor are children. In many African nations, for example, children are suffering due to wars, AIDS, famines and other problems. Traffickers search for such children, to offer them "opportunities" to earn wages. They might not entirely trust the traffickers, but choices are limited-either take a chance, or stay in their present condition are starve. Frequently they end up forced to work in factories called sweatshops, or as prostitutes. Without education, experience, guidance, money or papers (such as birth certificates or passports) needed to find legal jobs, not many are able to escape.
What goods and materials are made with child labor? You may even have some of them in your house. Not long ago, The News-Journal published an Associated Press article about the use of underage laborers. The article was titled, "The blood of African children is in our coffee," and explained how young kids are sometimes made to work picking coffee beans or other crops. Some clothing, electronics, toys and games and other factory items are also made using child labor. (However, not all of these or other items are made by minors. Children and other forced laborers make up just a small part of the work force.)
The United Nations, which represents the governments of many countries, is one organization that closely monitors human rights abuse. Not long ago, the U.N. ordered the search of a ship thought to be carrying child slaves. About 40 kids were removed from the ship and taken to a safe place. Trafficking smugglers typically promise they will educate the children and then find them good jobs.
More and more, governments are taking an active stance against human rights abuse. Recently, delegates of 53 African countries gathered to discuss how they might improve kids' lives on that continent, where many poor children are at risk. In the U.S., child labor laws regulate how many hours minor may work so that they can still have time to go to school and study. Before you go on to the activities below, take a look at this News-Journal article to learn about these laws through the eyes of some area teens.
Try these fun activities using The News-Journal
- In your newspaper, find and read an article involving an abuse of human rights. Then, write your own account of the incident. How would you have felt if you had been present as a government official, or an innocent bystander or the victim, for instance? Take several different points of view, and write a few sentences to justify each. (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.2.2.5, LA.B.2.2.3, LA.B.2.2.6, LA.D.2.2.3, LA.D.2.2.5)
Children at play
Giovanni keeps an eye his surroundings at the Seville Migrant Head Start Daycare Center on Thursday January 9, 2003, morning in Seville. The newly opened daycare facility offers it's services to the area's migrant farm workers to help keep the youngsters out of the fern fields. The center is sponsored by the nonprofit Redlands Christian Migrant Association. (Photo: News-Journal/Peter Bauer)
- Use the newspaper to select and read an article about a modern-day human rights issue, for example slavery. Then, consult other resources to find historical examples of that issue. (Newspapers, reference books and the Internet, among other sources, might be good places to start.) How long has the topic you chose been an issue? How many people, approximately, have been affected by it? (Estimate your answer.) In your opinion, has the focus of the issue remained the same, or has it changed over time? Write a complete sentence to answer each of the three questions. (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.2.2.5, LA.A.2.2.8, LA.B.1.2.2, MA.A.4.2.1, SS.A.1.2.1, SS.A.2.2.3, SS.A.2.2.4)
- Sometimes, less developed or underdeveloped countries have a relatively high rate of child labor. Choose newspaper articles about several of these countries. As you read them, try to determine some factors that might create a market for child labor. (Sunshine State Standards: SS.B.1.2.5, SS.A.2.2.3, SS.A.2.2.4, SS.A.3.2.3, SS.D.1.2.1, SS.D.1.2.2, SS.D.1.2.4)
- Many nations have set up social programs in efforts to provide a minimum standard of living for their citizens. Food Stamps and Social Security, available in the United States, are just two examples. What other services does the U.S. government offer its citizens? Use your newspaper to find and clip articles about national programs and services. After your search, how many can you list? (Sunshine State Standards: SS.C.1.2.5, SS.C.2.2.3, SS.C.2.2.4, SS.C.2.2.5)
- Locate a newspaper article that mentions the hourly, weekly or yearly wages of a typical laborer in a "Third World," or underdeveloped, country. Use the Classified section to find an ad for a similar job in your area, if possible, that lists the salary also. Compare the two wages. Draw a graph showing your findings. (Sunshine State Standards: MA.A.1.2.3, MA.A.3.2.2, MA.A.3.2.3, MA.B.2.2.1, MA.B.3.2.1, MA.B.4.2.1, MA.D.1.2.1)
A copy of Florida's Sunshine State Standards can be found at intech2000.miamisci.org.
Check out these links to learn more
These Web links are a good jumping-off point to find out more about this issue. Some of the sites you may visit provide opportunities for you to give feedback about what you have read or seen. Be sure you have an adult's permission before leaving your name or other personal information.
Get the facts about two significant civil rights documents: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These United Nations documents are important in promoting understanding of all human rights. Give yourself a gold star if you can figure out how many years each document has been in effect. You can read both of them online by following the link.
Take a look at some paintings and drawings created by kids who participated in an exhibition to promote international children's rights. You can also choose poetry and stories at this site from Free the Children.
UNICEF is probably the best-known organization in support of international children's rights. Visit the UNICEF Web site for breaking news around the world, links to other United Nations sites and fun puzzles to solve, while you learn about the importance of your identity and find out what you can and cannot do without a name and a birth certificate. Some puzzles are "hidden" and can only be accessed after you solve clues to identify the game's three main characters.
The Newspaper Association of America's web site contains links to many newspapers in the U.S. and around the world. Visit the site and check some of them out, to see if they have recently published any articles about child labor and other human rights concerns. To access the newspapers at the site, select a state. Click on the "Internationals" button to view choices from other countries.
Published June 25, 2001
Updated June, 2004