“…instead of playing on a softball team or singing in the glee club, these children are forced to work …”
By Wendy Glauser
The International Labour Organization estimates that 1.2 million boys and girls are trafficked for labour or sexual exploitation at any given time. That means that instead of playing on a softball team or singing in the glee club, these children are forced to work as domestic servants, to join begging rings, to labour in mines and on fishing boats, and to be exploited in the sex trade.
These children start “working” when they’re as young as four-years-old.
“It’s the same story for kids in Haiti or Cambodia or Thailand,” explains Carleen McGuinty, a policy advisor for child protection at World Vision Canada. “They’re willing to give up everything they have, face any kind of risk, if they think there’s a chance at a better life.”
They’re threatened and held against their will, and even if could make a run for it, they don’t: poverty, country instability, family problems and more make it make it almost impossible for them to justify any other kind of lifestyle.
“Child labour is not about kids working after school or weekends for pocket money,” says McGuinty. “It is labour that will harm children physically, mentally or emotionally.”
Ways you can help
- Sign the Help Wanted pledge and be a part of World Vision’s efforts to end child exploitation.
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Stories from the Field
Haiti: Finding the families of child labourers
The boys who work in the market area of Malpasse, Haiti—washing dishes, shining shoes or carrying baggage—feel the weight of grown-up responsibilities. “They feel they need to be men of the household,” says McGuinty, who interviewed several Haitian child labourers. “They need to earn money and they can’t admit that they failed, so they stay in the border area.”
After children have been away from home for months, affording the transportation home and finding family again—especially after the mass displacement caused by the earthquake—can prove difficult. World Vision supports vulnerable children such as border labourers by tracing and reuniting families. Children whose families can’t be found right away can stay in an interim care centre in Malpasse where the organization provides education, meals and life-skills courses.
Democratic Republic of Congo: Sustainable solutions for child miners
Children as young as five mining cobalt and copper in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) simply know that they’re supposed to pick out the green rocks. What they don’t realize is they may be being exposed to dangerous levels of mineral dust that can cause lifelong damage to their hearts and lungs.
“It’s really unbelievable,” says Vianney Dong, advocacy and communications director for World Vision DRC. “You can start coughing yourself after being in these places for just one or two hours.” Unfortunately, there are no quick-fix solutions, and in the past, non-governmental organizations have enrolled children in school, only to find them back in the mines two years later.
World Vision is currently researching how it can protect children from the dangers of such mining in the DRC in a sustainable way. One strategy the organization is exploring is setting up co-operatives so that families can receive fair prices for their metals and therefore do not have to rely on the labour of their school-age children. Additionally, World Vision is investigating the role Canadian and other international mining companies can play in bringing in protection standards for the artisanal mining sector. “We’re exploring what kind of safety clothing is needed and whether small machinery would help,” says Harry Kits, senior policy advisor in economic justice and peace building at World Vision Canada. “We’re also hoping to further study the health risks of dust, water pollution and radioactivity so that we can educate communities about it.”
Laos and Vietnam: Teaching street smarts in Mekong Region
For kids in countries like Laos and Vietnam, “The grass is very much greener on the Thailand side,” says John Whan Yoon, project manager of the Mekong Delta Regional Trafficking Strategy in East Asia.
World Vision recognizes children will be attracted to job opportunities in other villages and even across the border. That’s why area development programs in the Mekong region aim to equip children with a stronger sense of self and teach street smarts so they are less likely to be conned and know where to turn for help, Whan Yoon explains.
In the communities, World Vision partners with teen and community leaders to run workshops in children’s rights and life skills. Children are told to always keep contact information of individuals who can help them. Designated community trafficking prevention managers also talk with at-risk youth and investigate the employment opportunities they’re considering. “There have been cases where a community prevention manager has found a so-called factory or company very suspicious, so [the manager] contacted the anti-trafficking police and the youth ended up not going with the recruiter to work in the supposed factory,” says Whan Yoon.
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