Child Labor

By Matthew Kruse

The Tragedy of Child Labor

Imagine working tirelessly for hours on end, crushing rock and breathing in toxic fumes. Think about being in a dark, cold mine doing hard manual labor from dusk until dawn. Then getting up the next day to do it all again. Those are the conditions that young kids endure in countries around the world. When children do hard labor or work in dangerous conditions for little or no pay, child labor occurs. It happens mostly in countries that are very poor like Ethiopia or Pakistan. Despite the work of many activists, child labor is still a problem. Child labor is caused by many things and affects millions but several young activists are working hard to abolish it.


In countless countries around the world, millions of children do hard labor in extremely dangerous conditions. There are 168 million children worldwide that are victims of child labor. More than half of those children, 85 million kids were involved in hazardous conditions. Hazardous conditions, were kids work with toxic chemicals or work in places that often collapse like mines, are an added negative to normal child labor. Normal child labor entails work that prevents kids from having a healthy childhood by forcing them to do hard labor. Some countries that are included in these horrible conditions include Pakistan, North Korea, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and many others. But do you know what country has children working in gold mines? The poverty-stricken African country named Burkina Faso. Children there, must spend a staggering 14 hours a day mining for gold. Youths as young as 3 work deep down in the quarries crushing rock. Crushing the rock produces a toxic gas that the children must breath every day. It’s hard to imagine breathing in that toxic air every single day while being forced to move heavy rock, and then going home every night knowing that you will have to do the the same thing again. But that’s the life for the 40 percent of people in the Burkina Faso mines who are kids. These child laborers along with millions around the world have very few workers rights and can’t unionize. In fact, only one in five child laborers are paid for their work!


Child labor has many causes and effects and is hard to eliminate. One cause of child labor is that many poor parents think that the only way to provide for their family is by sending their kids to work in child labor. “When some parents get a new kid they think, there is two more hands to work” says one child labor activist. Another cause is that some countries don’t have any laws that prevent child labor. Even in places where there are rules or laws that prevent child labor, many of them are overlooked. Many agencies that are supplied by the government to fight child labor do not have enough resources. This could mean that the agencies don’t get paid enough or aren’t supplied with by the materials that they need to continue working (transportation, headquarters, ect.). Sometimes the agencies also don’t have enough authority to make a difference. Part of the reason the fight against child labor is slow is the economy. In today’s world, many companies are competing for the lowest prices to make products. This means that some companies resort to child labor which is inexpensive, to beat the competition. It is hard to monitor child labor in some of the companies because there are many layers of the companies. All of these causes are apart of child labor. Child labor is worse than having children do hard labor, it prevents children from having an education. Losing an education can limit the possibilities that they can have later in life. Some things you can still do to get rid of child labor is by providing fair pay and safe conditions while people are working.


There have been many young leaders that spoke out against child labor and spread the message to get rid of it. One of these leaders was a young Pakistani child named Iqbal Masih. When Iqbal was only four years old his father sold him into slavery for only twelve dollars. He worked for a carpet maker in harsh conditions until he was ten years old when he had a courageous idea to escape. Iqbal successfully escaped and started to spread his message to the world. He visited other countries across the globe and spoke out against child labor. After a while, Iqbal returned to Pakistan. Shortly after he got back, Iqbal was tragically shot while riding a bike and died. Yet Iqbal still managed to inspire people even when he was dead. A Canadian boy named Craig Keilburger read an article about Iqbal’s tragic death and was inspired to stop child labor. Craig did some more research and presented the information to his class. Most of his classmates were inspired too, so Craig and his classmates started a small organization that they called ‘Free the Children’. Over time, Free the Children grew and grew to become a worldwide association. There were however some setbacks. “Some adults don’t take us seriously or think that we do our research because we are kids” says Craig Kielberger himself. However this wasn’t enough to stop free the children! They still continue to grow today. It’s because of these young activists that child labor is slowly becoming a thing of the past.


Children, young children work in dangerous conditions doing hard labor for long periods of time. There isn’t just one reason for this sad fact, it is the many causes that accumulate that create child labor. Despite the many causes, young inspirational leaders try to make a difference in the world by trying to abolish child labor. Just remember that even while you are reading this, children are working as hard as they can deep down in mines or in other harsh conditions breathing in toxic fumes and working long hours. Yet that’s the life for child laborers.

Iqbal Masih

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Craig Kielberger

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Where Child Labor occurs the most

The Darker the color, the more child labor it has.
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Children Working in Burkina Faso

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Here is a video that Unicef created showing some workers in the Burkina Faso mines.

Getting children out of mines in Burkina Faso | UNICEF