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Working Children
Apr 1, 1999

Although child labor is old as the history of humanity, it has gained speed with industrial revolution. Nowadays, the situation is worse than ever before. Statistics show that eight percent of the world’s working power is comes from children, and that one of the five children between the ages of 10-14 must work. These numbers alone are enough to show the dimension of the problem about working children. Even the International Labor Organizations (ILO) rules that confirm that any child under 15 years old can not work (or cannot be forced to work) is still not preventing child labor, even for children as young as six years old from working, in yet, difficult situations.

International companies around the world have used most of the child labor for years. For example, one famous worldwide shoe company in the United States employs five thousand people in the United States and employs ninety five thousand people in Far Eastern Asian countries. Therefore, most of the production by this company has been made in the factories in Far East Asia. The company, however, has been using children as work power, while paying them only $1.5 per month. Just this example shows how difficult the working children’s situation is in the world, and makes people shudder. Although the situation is very serious, there have not been important efforts to protect children from working in unsuitable places. While we see children labor in developed countries, the situation is even worse in developing countries.


Children have been being worked at places that need less technology. In industries, many heavy jobs require cheap labor; therefore, children are the best workers for this kind of jobs. There are many reasons why even small aged group children have been pushed to work at unsuitable workplaces. Over population, poverty, migration from rural to urban areas, the education level of the parents, etc. are the main causes for working children. Especially in developing countries, when families migrate to cities, most of the time they live at a ghetto without a healthy environment and well-paying job. Therefore, every member of the family is a potential worker to bring food and money to the home. Many times, children are the most suitable workers for this kind of situation because parents do not have qualified work eligibility; therefore, it is hard for these parents to earn good money. Some cultural misconceptions also put children in work places. For example, in some cultures some families think their children should he taught to get ready for future life. This thinking sometimes force children to work at small ages to see how difficult life is. While child labor is a part of the daily life in third world countries, the problem has not been solved in developed countries either. Because children are considered the free work power, they are the only source of money for poor families. Even today, child labor problems are still a big problem in Spain, Portugal, Turkey, and some other countries. The income anomalies, poverty, high unemployment rate, low school finishing rate, etc. are the main reasons why child labor has been used in Turkey, a developing country with high young population rate.


If children at early ages are allowed to work at dangerous places, without good meals, with unsafe health environments, poor education, and neglect, we have to accept that these children will bring big problems to our society. Yet these children have the rights to receive a good education, security, a secure place to work, and the ability to join social activities. They need to be provided with all of their needs. When children stay away from their family’s control, and especially children who work on the street, will automatically be put in some risk from the streets and be vulnerable to exploitation. Any kind of drug uses, sexual abuses, and harassment are the main risks that children may come across in a short time on the streets.


Though the exact number of children workers in the world is not known, according to the United Nation International Children Fund’s estimation (UNICEF), the number of working children are more than two hundred million. According to International Labor Organization’s report, more than eighteen percent of the 14-18 age group of children are working in developing countries (Latin America, Asia, and Africa). In other words, children laborer is eight percent of the world’s potential 2.4 billions work power.

Today, not only most of the children’s future are in danger, but also their health and life are under threat around the world. It is possible to see working children continuous in history because the labor is cheap, and they are unable to protect their rights; especially industrial capitalists, factories, mining companies exploited children a lot. At that time, a generation was forced to pay the bill of Western Industrialization. Days and Nights from children to elderly people, everybody has worked. The first studies for children’s legal rights and protection started around the 1880s. The first applications to protect children and give them security by government began in 1802 in England. With this law, children were forbidden to work between 9.00 p.a. and 6.00 a.m. during nights. For the first time in 1890, the working children rights were discussed internationally at Berlin Conference in Germany. Children from both sex groups were prohibited to work unless they turned a specific age and finished their primary school education. The first international documents on children rights was signed with the Zurich Children Right Announcement in 1923. In addition, the United Nation Children Rights report was accepted in 1959.


ILO, the main international children organization, was working to prevent child labor with classic methods. That is, the main methods used by them were prohibiting children under a specific age and punished companies that allowed children to work. This classic method started to change in the 1990s. Under the United Nations umbrella role, ILO and some other children organizations began to develop new strategies and projects to protect children. For example, Germany founded the IPEC project. However, there are still some obstacles that need to be solved. Children from developing countries have been used as a study case, which brought some doubts about the success of the project.

Child labor is cheap, yet this is a disadvantage for developed countries. Some developed countries argue that it is not fair to compete with developing countries because they allow working children as cheap work forces while developed countries can not. Therefore, the G-7 (the most developed seven countries in the world), and 24 countries have taken some actions at the ILO and OECD level in order to stop this acting unjustly competition. Here is a typical example from Germany: Germany has been importing carpets and rugs from India for years. German people started protesting these products from India because children produced these carpets and rugs. Finally, India agreed that they would send an official certificate to Germany showing that the products were not made by children.

Some experts think that labor by children is not productive. According to Jean Maurie Derrien, an expert at ILO, children work power is a vicious circle and does not make nations rich, but only causes poverty. The reason is because if children work, the level of education, qualified work power or profession, and the rate of earning will get lower. The lack of healthy food, poor housing and lack of immunization from diseases brings low working capabilities and, thus, poverty. All of these unsuitable working conditions have many impacts on children for the rest of their lives. In order to solve these problems, ILO started a program called IPEC in developing countries, such as Turkey, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Kenya, etc. which includes serial conferences, seminars, and other activities. The program is still continuing, therefore, the results are yet to come.