How Tall Should A 2.5 Year Old Boy Be Stolen Dreams

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Stolen Dreams

The next time you shop, I hope you realize that the garden stone, handmade rug, or silk scarf available at your favorite store was probably made by children. I hope you will think about twelve-year-old Ramesh who works in a silk factory in the northern part of India.

Every day he has to put his hands in boiling water to remove the thread from the silkworms and even though silk is expensive in the international market, Ramesh alone earns about $1 a day. That’s not all, at the end of the day his hands are red and blistered due to the inhumane nature of his job. But Ramesh is not alone. There are millions of children like him – 158 million according to UNICEF. They are everywhere but invisible, working as domestic servants in homes, working behind workshop walls, hidden from view on plantations. Children work in mines, in the agricultural sector with chemicals and pesticides and dangerous machinery. Sectors employing children are often informal without legal or regulatory protection. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 22,000 children die in occupational accidents every year.

Child labor is widespread worldwide and no country is immune: there are 2.5 million working children in developed economies and another 2.5 million in transition economies. In sub-Saharan Africa, about one in three children is involved in child labour, representing 69 million children, while in South Asia there are another 44 million working children. In addition, an estimated 8.4 million children are trapped in slavery, trafficking, debt slavery, prostitution, pornography and other illicit activities (source: UNICEF).

Child labor is one of the biggest consequences of poverty and illiteracy around the world. For poor children, attending school competes with a host of other demands on their time and energy, such as contributing to the family income, caring for younger siblings, and doing household chores. And then there are times when children have no other option. Families trade their child to an employer for money (sometimes for as little as US$15) and the children remain as slaves for the rest of their lives.

Most countries today have laws that prohibit child labor and slavery. However, such laws have many loopholes and are often poorly enforced. In India, for example, the law prohibits children under the age of 14 from working in factories, slaughterhouses or other dangerous locations, but there are some exceptions for farm work – if the hours are limited, the children are in school and there are no machines to operate. But children often spend ten-hour days in the fields and miss school. The Indian government itself, in its latest report (from the 2001 census), estimates that 12.6 million children under the age of 14 are at work in India. But non-profit organizations that work with these children put the number much higher – 50 million. The situation is far worse in war-torn Africa and other parts of Asia such as Bangladesh and Myanmar where the majority of the population lives below the poverty line.

A change in attitudes is needed to eradicate child labour. Every child has the right to an education and a safe childhood. Every child has the right to dreams and we can make it a reality. What we need to do is remind governments of the promises made and support every effort that seems to be made to fulfill those promises. We should decide not to employ children or buy products made by children. We just need to be willing to help those who never get the same opportunities as us – all we need to do is care. It is an important commitment that we must all make in order to break this intergenerational cycle of poverty. Change should begin within each of us. And it should only end when all children are free to be children.

There are many creative and simple ways you can take part in the fight against child labor and other issues plaguing our world. We can all make this world a better place for everyone.

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