Today we welcome a guest post from Jessica Bousquette, Advocacy Associate in Child Protection for World Vision US and Gloria Das, Documentation & Publication Officer, WV Bangladesh
Today is World Day Against Child Labor. Child labor is any work done by children that is hazardous, prevents them from attending school, or is harmful to their health or to their physical, mental, or social development. Jobs that are dangerous, dirty, and degrading are considered hazardous child labor. 215 million children work in the world, 115 million of those children work in dirty, dangerous, and degrading jobs. Child labor occurs in agriculture, domestic work, mining, quarrying, fishing, commercial sexual exploitation, manufacturing, construction, hotels, and bars, just to name a few places.
Shoma, now a teenager, grew up in a small clay brick house in southeastern Bangladesh. Because of poverty and hardships, Shoma’s parents sent her to work for an affluent family, over two hours away, as a maidservant. Because she was 8 years old, Shoma was unable to work to perform the work of a grown-up woman so her employer scolded and mistreated her. Shoma was miserable in her employer’s house, earning $6 a month. She was depressed and had little hope for survival. “I was not allowed to go to school but I would see my master’s children going to school well-dressed while I proceeded to do other housework. Working in the kitchen, I would dream of going to school, playing, dancing, and singing. It remained a dream for eleven long years,” Shoma recalls.
In the midst of all this, Shoma’s mother, Monowara, joined a deposit savings group and became involved in project activities like homestead gardening, poultry, and goat rearing provided by World Vision. The program was transformative for Monowara. Now there is hardly sign of despair in her face.
And then, suddenly a flicker of hope was seen for Shoma. The group members learned about Shoma’s situation. They discussed the matter with World Vision staff and dreamed of bringing Shoma back and admitting her to school. They talked to her parents and discussed about the harmful impacts of child labor and helped them understand the rights of education for children. Shoma left her employer’s house and came home.
“Now I am a student in primary school…I still remember the moment when my teacher handed me my first report card. I received it, yes, of course, amidst my tear-filled eyes, yet I know they were bright, joyful and hopeful. I hugged it to my breasts like a world champion would hug his world cup. I had no bounds to express my joy. Yet, along with this joy, a question crept into my mind, what next?” Shoma says.
Shoma now goes to school regularly. She hopes someday she would become a teacher; but today she is happy to enjoy her carefree life of a student.
The focus of this year’s World Day Against Child Labor is domestic work. Because domestic work is often hidden, it is difficult to know how many children are in domestic work. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are over 10 million children in domestic work, 71 percent of them are girls. Domestic work is often seen as an acceptable form of work for girls. But children who work in homes often work 12 hour days, 7 days a week in isolation. This leaves them vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and violence, and prevents them from going to school. They also often use toxic chemicals (think of all the chemicals you use in your home), carry heavy loads, handle dangerous items (knives, hot pans, axes), and are subject to humiliating treatment with inadequate food and accommodation, according to the International Program to Eliminate Child Labor.
Earlier this year, you helped pass a law that will allow the US to partner with countries to target issues like forced domestic labor. Now it’s important to do our own part to ensure policies on paper become effective programs that impact children’s lives for the better. World Vision works to combat child labor through a holistic approach at the community level that works to protect children from abuse, neglect, exploitation, and violence. We do this by creating opportunities for children engaged in child labor to receive an education or skills training, raising community awareness about the harmful impacts of child labor, providing ways for parents to make a sustainable income (just like Monowara), and supporting children’s and youth clubs that mobilize, educate, and empower children to take stand against child labor. Addressing the root vulnerabilities of children, their families, and communities builds the foundation for motivated national governments to make the elimination of child labor a national priority. On this World Day Against Child Labor, let’s join with children, parents, communities and governments around the globe to ensure every child gets a chance to thrive, just like Shoma.