Child Labour: A Stain upon the Soul.



See Saw Margery Daw,

Johnny shall have a new master.

He shall earn but a penny a day,

Because he can’t work any faster.

How many of the 220m child labourers will never hear a nursery rhyme because they’re at work. Will never experience the warmth of a cuddle? Never experience the sheer exhilaration of being swung between two loving parents as they stroll along. Never is a forever word and that’s how you measure true sadness.

boy carrying load

It ain’t easy

According to the International Labour Organisation ( there are 217.7 million children at work around the world.  The figures differ as you read through the reams of paper associated with child labour. UNICEF, say 246m are engaged in work, while estimate 220m. Why is there no clarity?

Another problem with the figures is the age range, generally it is set at 5-18 years old, but the ILO has given 5-14 for its analysis. I would suggest that both need amending as it is known that children as young as 4 are at work. And young people at 16 often start their apprenticeship or permitted part time work. Therefore a more realistic variant might be 4-15 years old. What is clear is that the international bodies need to get their act together and provide a proper set of statistics so we are not fobbed off with the current mish-mash.

What is quite amazing is that the law and international agreement exist to ban child labour.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 article 32 (1) states:

Children should be protected from …economic exploitation…from hazardous work that

A break from work

Lunch time

interferes with the child’s education or is harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. A fine set of words, you can take the paper it is written on and use it to wipe your backside because that’s as much value as it warrants.

A UN affirmation in 2002 under ‘goal 21’ pledged to the world to;

“Take immediate and effective measures to eliminate the ‘worst forms’ of child labour.”

Did it happen? Choose one of the following options:       No                         No.         No!

(I hope I’m not being facetious here?)

The great and the powerful arrive in New York for their important meeting; wearing expensive clothes, well fed and catered for; with a limousine waiting to whisk them to the UN building. They eat a fine lunch and then pontificate at length on what should be done to help child labourers.

A ditty:

They’re talking over dinner.

They’ve talked over lunch.

They talk of child labour,

As they munch, munch, munch.

So they all sat there, after lunch of course, and agreed to ‘immediate and effective’ action then departed to their luxury hotel, then perhaps to an evening soiree, before flying  home the next day. And eleven (11) years later what has been achieved? Is this what football (soccer) commentators describe as an own goal? Or does it cause a moment of meditation on what is wrong with humanity?

However, the joke on child labourers does not end there. The ILO has set a deadline for the end to the ‘worst forms’ of child labour by 2016! Why just the ‘worst forms’ of labour

heavy duty

We have load on our mind.

is not all child labour heinous? In 2002 the UN insisted on ‘immediate’ action and the ILO say let’s wait till 2016. Confused? I’m befuddled!

I can’t wait for 2016 and the remake of High Noon. I can hear the childrens’ choir sing:

Don’t forsake me oh my…

(High Noon a Western 1952, starring Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly Dir: Fred Zinnemann.)

If you set a deadline then you expect compliance. What happens if China and India ignore the timeline and fail to implement the changes? Does the ILO have any power to force the issue or will they just shout louder and arrange a new deadline?

Fourteen years will have elapsed since the decision for ‘immediate’ action and the 2016 deadline. A whole childhood. A quarter of a century since the Convention on child rights and still they talk over lunch. How many young lives do we write-off before something solid is done?

Not choice

But habit rules the unreflecting herd.


Assuming that UNICEF is reasonably accurate then 73% of children work in the ‘worst forms’ of labour. The transformation of the workplace to accommodate the changes needed would be immense. It would require Government dictated change and the will and the resources to impose compliance. The other daunting problem comes from the sudden release of the children from their slave labour. Who will accommodate them upon release? Who will cater for their psychological problems? The whole process needs to be correctly organized over a protracted period. It seems to me that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Even Satan couldn’t organize such a hell

“The condition of millions of child laborers would shock even the most hardened Victorian social reformers. National governments and international agencies are failing these kids, and reneging on their commitments.” Kevin Watkins, Brookings Institution, Oct: 2012.