According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), around 250 million children are economically involved, exploited or they are active providers for their families. The number of working children is not getting any lower. According to the ILO statistics from 2010, the number of child laborers was 215 million worldwide. The UNCIEF estimates that there are 2.2 billion children in the world, 1.9 billion are living in developing countries and every second child lives in poverty (around 1 billion). From 250 million working children, 61% of them (153 million) live in Asia. Furthermore, half of the economically active children are working full time and between 30-45 million of them live and work in exploitive conditions. This is not just a sad and depressing statistic; this is the reality of modern life in Asia.
Poverty and lack of education is the main reason why children are economically active in Asia. They work in households of rich families, where they are hidden from society or in a full public view, on the streets as scavengers or street beggars. The ILO has found working children in many economic sectors: footwear factories, seafood processing, carpet industry, scavenging, entertainment and sex industry.
Probably the worst form of child labor in Asia and around the world is young sex workers. Most of them were lured in into the sex trade by someone they knew and someone they trusted. It is tragic to know that around 40% of these young sex workers are sold by their own parents. Every year, around one million children are persuaded or forced into the commercial sex trade in Asia (UNICEF). Exploitation of children in commercial sex trade or other jobs is heavily supported by increased trafficking, a form of modern day slavery. Children or adults from rural or poor areas are lured into some form of labor. The main and final destinations for trafficking are Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, and Malaysia. Unfortunately, the problem of child labor is not only in these countries; Bangladeshi children can be found working in the worst conditions in India, Pakistan and Middle East.
Another common form of child labor in Asia is bonded child labor or better known as child debt bondage. Bonded child labor is rooted in social and cultural structure of South Asia. Children are given to landowners as a form of repayment. These children are modern day slaves; they are working without knowing when the debt will be paid. Furthermore, bonded laborers are sometimes involved in working without social obligations as a form of religious or ethnic practice.
Still, there are some successes stories and improvements in Asia – NGOs around Asia are trying their best to change policies and people’s attitudes towards child labor. In 2012, the law “Magna Carta for Household Helpers” was passed, limiting the minimum age of employment to 15 years and protecting children and adult household workers. Unfortunately, children who work from the early age usually don’t get a chance to prosper and to find a good employment as adults. They end up being stuck in a poverty trap, without education or opportunities to create a normal life for them and their families.
These are the words of young scavenger girl from Indonesia:
“After quitting school, I started to help my parents financially. I collect garbage that can be sold from early morning till afternoon. I give the money I earn to my parents to buy food so we can survive and send my brother to school. When I see my friends go to school, I feel I want to cry. Sometimes, I daydream, imagining myself in school. I used to go to school, now, no more. I work among the garbage. One day, I collected trash till the sun went down. When I finally came home, my parents told me that my younger brother does not want to go to school anymore. I was confused. I couldn’t do anything but pray that hopefully my little brother would again go back to school like he used to.”
Photos: Duc Den Thui, Africa924, PavelSvoboda, JeremyRichards