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CHILD SLAVERY

Despite the fact that many people believe that slavery no longer exists, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that there are some 5.5 million children in slavery or practices similar to slavery.

They are all in child slavery, as defined by the 1956 UN Supplementary Slavery Convention. In these cases, as well as being in a hazardous situation, there is an intention to exploit these children for someone else’s gain.

This group of children includes:
  • Children who are used by others who profit from them, often through violence, abuse and threats, in prostitution or pornography, illicit activities, such as forced begging, petty theft, and the drug trade;
  • Forced child labour, for example in agriculture, factories, construction, brick kilns, mines, bars, restaurants or tourists environment;
  • Children who are forced to take part in armed conflict. They don't only include child soldiers but also porters or girls taken as “wives” for soldiers and militia members. According to UNICEF there are about 300,000 child soldiers involved in over 30 areas of conflict worldwide, some even younger than 10 years old. Children involved in conflict are severely affected by their experiences and can suffer from long-term trauma;
  • Child domestic workers, many of whom are forced to work long hours, in hazardous and often abusive environments, for little or no pay, and often far from home.

HOW BIG IS THE PROBLEM?

  • There are 168 million child labourers aged between 5 and 17 years old (ILO 2012). This is considerably less than estimated 215 million in 2008.
  • Around five per cent of child labourers are estimated to be in the worst forms of child labour (ILO 2010).
  • Worldwide, 5.5 million children are in slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labour, forced recruitment for armed conflict, prostitution, pornography and other illicit activities (ILO 2012).

CHILD WORK, CHILD LABOUR, CHILD SLAVERY?

The terms around exploitation of children can be quite confusing so here is a short explanation:

Child work

Some types of work make useful, positive contributions to a child's development. Work can help children learn and develop particular skills that will benefit them and the rest of society. Often, work is a vital source of income that enables children to help sustain their families.

Child labour

According to the ILO, however, there are over 200 million child labourers around the world.  Child labour is not slavery, but nevertheless hinders children’s education, development and future livelihoods. For example, children who are working below the legal minimum age for employment.

Worst forms of child labour

Of the children in child labour, some five percent are engaged in “hazardous work,” otherwise known as the worst forms of child labour (ILO, 2012).  This is work that irreversibly threatens children’s health and development, through, for example, exposure to dangerous machinery or toxic substances, and may even endanger their lives. The worst forms of child labour also include the 5.5 million children in slavery and slavery-like practices, who are also subject to exploitation by others, and are the priority for us all to address.  

Child Trafficking

Trafficking involves transporting people away from the communities in which they live, by the threat or use of violence, deception, or coercion so they can be exploited for sex or labour. When children are trafficked, no violence, deception or coercion needs to be involved, it is merely the act of transporting them into exploitative work which constitutes trafficking. The vulnerability of these children is very serious, often they do not have contact with their families and are at the mercy of their employers.

Child marriage

Marriage involving children under 18 years old remains a widely culturally accepted practice in many corners of the globe.  Estimates suggest that 11 per cent of women aged between 20 and 24 worldwide were married before reaching the age of 15 (UNICEF 2012).  Child marriage can operate as a shield behind which slavery and slavery-like practices occur with apparent impunity. Although many marriages involving children will not amount to slavery, particularly between couples aged 16 to 18 years, many married children can experience levels of suffering, coercion and control that meet international legal definitions of slavery and slavery-like practices.

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