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No back to school fun for child laborers

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It’s that special time of the year for kids in many countries as they start heading back to school. And for those who have discovered the fun of learning, school is an adventure.

But for millions of working children worldwide, the adventures of a new school year remain but a dream. Sadly, these children will never learn to read or write. They will not acquire computer skills. They will not experience singing in chorus, going on field trips, or playing at recess. Their classrooms will be sweatshops, farm fields, and battlefields. Their days will be filled with long, dirty, dangerous work. And the lesson they will learn is that life is cruel and unfair.

And worse yet, there is no light at the end of this cruel and unfair tunnel. In fact, the darkness is growing. In the last few years, the number of child laborers, instead of decreasing, has increased by more than 8 million, to a worldwide total of 160 million – that’s 1 in 10 children. And according to International Labour Organization (ILO) Director-General Guy Ryder, before the end of this year it is likely that there will be an additional 9 million child laborers – with many of them laboring in extremely harsh and dangerous conditions.

According to the ILO, 79 million of these children are trapped in hazardous work. And even more tragic is that approximately 8 million children are enslaved in the worst forms of child labor – the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage, drug dealing, forced recruitment to fight in armed conflicts, prostitution and pornography.

And worst of all, according to the ILO every year about 22,000 children are killed while working (see: https://bit.ly/3TWjgyx).

The ILO has several excellent resources to assist us in helping to end child labor (see: https://bit.ly/2P7E3BR).

One of the main reasons children do not attend school, and work instead, is because adults in countless families in poor nations have not had access to a good education, learning a viable trade, or are subsistence farmers who are unable to grow enough food for their families. Thus, it sadly becomes imperative that children must work.

Guy Ryder, ILO director-general, emphasized that “universal social protection” that provides families with income security in difficult times – including child, maternity and family benefits, unemployment support, old age pensions and health care – greatly helps families cope during economic or health shocks, thus eliminating the need to put their children into work.

Ryder said that government leaders need to put these policies into place along with measures that ensure decent work for adults and quality education for all children. Let’s lobby our political leaders to do exactly that (see: https://bit.ly/3eBc6Qd and https://bit.ly/3BrHw4r).

The U.S. McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program is an excellent example of how government spending in the right places can truly make a difference in the lives of those most in need. Since its inception 20 years ago, this congressional program has provided over 5.5 billion school meals benefitting over 31 million school-age children and their communities (see: https://bit.ly/3DuO8AH). Please urge your congressional delegation to robustly increase funding for this life-saving program in the fiscal year 2023 budget. And urge them to significantly increase all other international poverty-focused programs.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization laments that inequalities in access to education are keeping 244 million children out of the classroom (see: https://bit.ly/3RT5jzw).

How can we build the world we want, beat the climate crisis, and achieve justice, when 4 in 10 children don’t even finish secondary school? Please sign the Avaaz   petition calling for a global treaty to ensure that every child should have the right to free education from pre-primary through secondary school (see:  https://bit.ly/3TWeuB7).

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at tmag6@comcast.net.

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