Working on Dreams, Not in Fields

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A child, right, carries a basket of stones while unloading a quarry boat with adult workers at a port in Yangon, Myanmar.
A child carries a basket of stones while unloading a quarry boat with adult workers at a port in Myanmar. (AP Photo)

Working on Dreams, Not in Fields

On June 12 each year, we commemorate World Day Against Child Labor, a day established by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2002 to raise awareness on the plight of child laborers around the world. This year’s World Day Against Child Labor highlights the “importance of children working on their dreams, not working in fields.”

Today, 152 million children -- 88 million boys and 64 million girls -- are deprived of their childhoods and educational opportunities, which perpetuates a cycle of poverty, inequality, and economic and social vulnerability. This issue affects a staggering 72.1 million children in Africa; 62.1 million in Asia and the Pacific; 10.7 million in the Americas; 5.5 million in Europe and Central Asia; and 1.2 million in the Arab States.

While 71 percent of child labor is concentrated primarily in agriculture, there is child labor in other sectors including domestic servitude, mining, construction, and manufacturing. Children are also used in some cases as child soldiers or in forced begging. Nearly half of child laborers engage in hazardous work that can lead to illness, serious injuries, or death.

The United States ratified and supports ILO Convention 182, which declares the “prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor as a matter of urgency.” The Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) continues to partner with international organizations, foreign governments, and civil society organizations to eliminate child labor. DRL also partners with the Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs, whose programming has included technical assistance through more than 300 initiatives in over 90 countries aimed at eliminating the most hazardous and exploitative forms of child and forced labor.

Under the labor provisions in U.S. free trade agreements, countries commit to upholding certain labor protections, including protections against child labor. Trade preference programs under which developed countries unilaterally provide market access to developing countries can be revoked or modified at any time if countries fail to live up to their labor commitments.

We join the ILO in calling on the few remaining countries to ratify Convention 182, 20 years since its adoption.

About the Author: Sifa Kasongo serves in the Office of International Labor Affairs in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. Department of State.