Children are the future and every country that cares about its future has to ensure that children are getting the education they need. Putting children to work does help families improve their income for the day but it limits their ability to gain the knowledge and skills needed for their careers. That is why the biggest corporations in the world have been condemned for sourcing materials from countries where child labour is used to sustain the supply chain. In some countries like Bolivia, the legal working age is just 10 years so more than half of the child population is used to sustain the economy for little to no pay while ruining their future. The pandemic made things even worse as incomes were cut while children were forced to stay at home which made them susceptible to exploitation, especially in the agricultural and mining industries.
The DRC supplies 70% of the world’s cobalt with most of the mining being done in small informal mines that have little to no regulation. In 2010, a UN report showed that more than 25% of school age children in Congo were not registered in schools and more than 60% of teenagers didn’t have secondary level education. There are more than 40,000 children working in unsafe cobalt mines in the country though. That data would be even worse if you considered the illegal diamond, titanium and nickel mines in the country most of which are not regulated at all. More children in the country actually work in the agricultural industry to supplement the family income. The new presidency that came in 2018 offered free primary school education, which will hopefully eradicate the plight of those children.
Eritrea is also considered Africa’s North Korea because of the oppressive nature of the government and the total blanket on information leaving the country. The government has allowed the spread of information since 2020 but not much has been done to alleviate the plight of children. The government has a mandatory military and government youth training program into which children aged under 18 years are forced to. More than 425,000 children in the country were suffering from malnutrition in 2020 and lots were used to supplement income for their families by working on farms, open quarries, mines and in brick making.
India is now one of the biggest economies in the world and there is no argument about the growth of the country’s manufacturing industry. The agricultural industry remains the backbone of the economy though and at least 10.1 million children are labourers in that industry. Children are also forced to work in other industries under harsh conditions in India although most of them are family-owned farms and businesses which need the children to give a hand to make ends meet. 10.1 million is a small number when you consider India’s 1.3 billion population, but it is still nearly 10% of the global population of child labourers which is grim.
When governments fail, children suffer and nowhere else in the world is that truer than in Myanmar. The country lived under an oppressive dictatorship for years and when democracy came, it didn’t last long enough to change the country’s income disparity. Myanmar has a population of just over 54 million out of whom nearly two million children aged between 5 and 17 are trapped in child labour. The law was changed in 2019 to limit the legal working age to 14 years and for 14 to 17-year-olds to only work a maximum of four hours a day but that hasn’t changed the situation much because militias are now recruiting children to fight for them.
If you thought Myanmar was bad with a minimum working age of 14, then imagine Bolivia where the limit is just 10 years old. Bolivia has the lowest minimum working age in the world which has exposed children to exploitation in the agricultural and mining industries. A 2015 study found that more than 20% of 7- to 14-year-olds (nearly 400,000) make up the national labour force. More research has found that Bolivia has some of the worst working conditions for child labourers.
Nepal has a population of just under 30 million but records one of the highest numbers of child labourers in the country. Lack of capital investment in the country’s agricultural industry means that most of the work in the large soybean and palm oil industry is done by hand. That has trapped over 1.1 million children in child labour. The country also has the highest number of children working in hazardous circumstances at 200,000 just after the DRC.
Somalia is another instance where a failed government has ruined the lives of children. The country hasn’t had a stable government for nearly 40 years and in that period, most of the country was controlled by the Al Shabab Islamist military group. The Islamists recruit children as young as 12 into their service. Girls also get married off early because economic strains force families to marry off children to get bride price.
Children who work hard are considered an asset in the country and therefore every family will have their children working in the family’s key source of income in harsh conditions and the law doesn’t do much to change it. There is little information on the exact number of child labourers in the country but a 2020 UNICEF report confirmed that more than 3 million school aged children are not enrolled so you can guess where they are.
Bangladesh has been the biggest topic of contention in regards to the exploitation of children where the international supply of textile and electronic products are concerned. In Bangladesh, children leave the villages to go and work in factories in the cities where some of the suppliers for the world’s largest fashion and electronics companies are located. The government changed the law to say that children aged 14 to 18 can only be employed in light jobs but light is a relative word. ODI discovered in 2021 that about 4.3% of school age children worked for up to 64 hours a week in Bangladesh in 2021 earning less than $2 a day.
Afghanistan recently suffered an earthquake in which more than 1,000 people were killed. This came on the back of the exit of Western aid to the country after the Taliban overthrew Ashraf Ghani’s government. While the world watched in shock as the government prevented girls in primary and secondary schools from going to school, the NGO, Save the Children reported that more than one million children were trapped in dangerous child labour after household incomes plummeted with the fall of the western-backed government.
Burundi has never left the list of top ten poorest countries in the world since its independence in 1962, and with harsh economic prospects for families, children pay the price. In Burundi, when you are aged over 10 years, being told to work on the family farm instead of going to school is the least of your worries. Children, especially boys are easily snatched by militias and forced to become child soldiers or even used as human shields. The government has been forced to forcefully take children off the streets and put them in facilities because militias target them, arm them and then use them to attack the government.