Survey Shows Americans Severely Underestimate Number of Child Laborers

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

The number of children and youths who work — whether they’re paid or unpaid — is notoriously hard to pin down. Many countries have laws against employing children, but industries still continue to use child laborers despite legal and social consequences.

What number would you guess is accurate? A million? Six million? Ten?

Not even close.

Bolivian shoeshiner

A Bolivian boy shines shoes in Tarija. This photo was entered in a 2012 youth photography contest held by ChildFund Bolivia.

The estimated number of child laborers ages 5 to 14 is 150 million, according to UNICEF. But only 1 percent of 1,022 Americans in a recent survey conducted for ChildFund answered correctly; 73 percent said less than 1 million children are engaged in labor in developing countries.

Other statistics reported in the survey, which was conducted in late June by Ipsos Public Affairs, are more encouraging; a majority of respondents say they’re willing to pay more for clothing produced without the use of child laborers, and 77 percent say they would stop purchasing clothing from labels that are found to use child labor. That’s good.

But it’s important for children all over the world — including those risking their lives in African gold mines, spending hours in the sun harvesting sugarcane in the Philippines, burning their fingers while making glass bangles at home in India or working for no money at all, as hundreds of thousands of Brazilian children do — for Americans to be more aware of the scope of the problem.

girl making bangles

An Indian girl, Sarita, makes bangles.

Almost one in six children ages 5 to 14 in developing countries are engaged in labor; aside from the potential physical hazards, these children are unlikely to complete their education. And thus the generational cycle of poverty continues. ChildFund supports many programs that assist families caught in this vicious circle by providing training for safer, more stable ways to earn income, giving assistance to children and youth to keep them in school longer and working with entire communities to discourage the employment of children.

The missing piece here is broader awareness in the United States and other prosperous countries. Child labor is a worldwide problem that touches everyone in some way, and we need to use this knowledge to engage and educate industries on how to change their practices and stop exploiting children.

2 Responses to Survey Shows Americans Severely Underestimate Number of Child Laborers

  • It is right to teach children skills that would enable them survive in future when they are all by themselves in this cruel world. However, it is immoral to deny children the right to education at the expense of labour so that the family survives. Child labour affects the cognitive, affective and physical development of children. It dwarfs their minds and steals away precious time for them to be at school. It is exploitative,harmful and debases children.

  • We believe, Child Labour in each country exists due to reasons that need to be fully studied before we arrive at potential solutions. In India (and perhaps similar to other developing countries) here are the things we thought through- http://mief.in/blog/2013/11/27/child-labour-in-india-an-overview/

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