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Government Reports, Legislation, Statistics: Child Labor (page 1)

In 1994 and 1995 the U.S. Department of Labor and Bureau of International Labor Affairs issued two reports on child labor and forced child labor in the manufacture of American imports, titled By the Sweat and Toil of Children Volumes I and II: The Use of Child Labor in U.S. Agricultural Imports & Forced and Bonded Child Labor. Excerpts of statistics and information from Volume I of these reports are listed below:

"For purposes of the study, the Department used as its definition of child labor the international standard. That
standard is contained in the International Labor Organization's Convention 138 on Minimum Age for
Employment (1973) which provides as follows:
The minimum age . . . should not be less than the age of compulsory schooling and, in any case,
shall not be less than 15 years. Convention 138 allows countries whose economy and
educational facilities are insufficiently developed to initially specify a minimum age of 14 years
and reduce from 13 years to 12 years the minimum age for light work.
There is no explicit definition of "light work" in the Convention, other than it not be likely to harm the health
or development of young persons, and that it not prejudice their attendance at school, their participation in
vocational orientation or training programs approved by the competent authority or their capacity to benefit
from the instruction received." (35)

Convention 138 thus sets a minimum working age for all countries and defines the type of work that can be done by children.

"the International Labor Organization has estimated the total number of child workers to be between 100-200 million. According to the ILO, more than 95 percent of all child workers live in developing countries. As the world's most populous region, Asia accounts for more than 50 percent of child laborers. However, Africa has the highest percentage of children working, roughly one in three. In Latin America, an estimated 15 to 20 percent of all children work." (36)

This excerpt gives a rough estimate of the magnitude of child labor around the globe. Children still compose a very large force of labor, for example 1/3 of the children in Africa works.

"There is a consensus among experts that child workers are generally less demanding, more obedient, and less
likely to object to their treatment or conditions of work. They can easily be taken advantage of and more often
than not are. The great majority work long hours for substandard wages under unhealthful conditions. They
have few if any legal rights, can be fired without recourse, and are often abused. While a few may be relatively
well off compared with their peers, almost all are deprived of an adequate education and options for future
work. They also may face exploitation by adult co-workers who force children to take on some of their tasks." (37)

The conditions of child labor today as described above resemble the conditions in the Gilded Age. More excerpts illustrating this point are given on the next page.

"Governmental responses to the problem of child labor vary as greatly as do the industries in which children
work. Some governments enact exemplary laws abolishing or at least regulating child labor. Others create a
maze of regulatory schemes governing the employment of children fraught with loopholes and exceptions, too
confusing to navigate, or with no intent they be enforced. There are governments which deny the existence of
child labor and thus lack any initiatives to curtail the exploitation of child workers. There generally are no labor
force statistics on economically active children under the age of 12, since almost everywhere this is illegal
activity.
Too many governments contend that they lack the financial and other resources to successfully battle the
exploitation of child labor. It can be said, however, that many lack the political will to enforce child labor laws,
train labor inspectors, and implement health and safety regulations." (38)

The governments described above also resemble the nonexistent government control over labor and industry in the Gilded Age.

 

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