Revolution #55, July 30, 2006


Capitalism-Imperialism and Child Labor

Capitalism-imperialism is driven by relentless lust for profit. Capitalism is driven to exploit workers, enslave whole nations, and to compete with other capital to do all this even more viciously in a game of survival of the most ruthless. This drive for profit has created 250 million child laborers in the world. Those 250 million humans, whose childhoods are stolen and who are chained to machines, working in the fields, or forced into the sex trade, are—alone—enough to indict capitalism-imperialism as worthless, a failure, and a horror. And reason enough for socialist revolution that will end child labor, as part of overthrowing the rule of capital.

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A report by the International Labor Organization estimates that 250 million children are involved in child labor around the world—or one out of every six children in the world. 120 million of those are working full-time.

UNICEF estimates that 5.7 million children are working as bonded laborers (essentially slaves while they pay off debts), that 1.2 million children are or have been trafficked, and that 1.8 million are prostitutes or are used to make child pornography.

One million children are working in mining around the world—a job that the ILO calls “some of the worst conditions imaginable.” A 1997 UNICEF report stated that one in five children in Latin America, and one in three in Africa, are working.

Human Rights Watch estimates that somewhere between 60 to 115 million children are working in India, and that as many as 85% of them are working in agriculture. A 2002 report quoted twelve-year-old T. Basheer, who worked in a silk reeling unit in Ramanagaram, India: “Boiling water falls on your hand. You are always in water, standing in it. The skin on your hands and feet peels off. It gets loose.” Lakshmi, interviewed in another HRW report on India, had been weaving carpets since she was ten years old: “This work is good, because it gives us some income. But it is very bad, too… All day long we are sitting here, and it hurts our backs and legs. Little pieces of wool come into our mouths and hurt our lungs, making us sick. Our fingers are raw and give us constant pain.”

Human Rights Watch estimates that 175 million children around the world are working in agriculture. A 2004 report on El Salvador quoted a 15-year-old boy who worked cutting sugarcane, one of the most hazardous of all crops to harvest; he had cut himself with a blade and didn’t have money to pay for the doctor. “I wrapped it up and returned to work the next day… We don’t have the money to pay [for a doctor]. It’s about $2 that we have to pay.” In 1998, the General Accounting Office estimated that there were 300,000 children working in agriculture in the U.S. alone—a job that, along with forestry and mining, is one of the three most dangerous jobs in the country.

1.75 million children are employed in domestic work. Child laborers are trafficked from poorer countries, India in particular, to wealthier Middle Eastern countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

An estimated two million women and children are sold into the sex trade every year, the U.S. research group Protection Project states. In Lithuania, 20 to 50 per cent of prostitutes are believed to be minors. The Thai government reports that 60,000 Thai children have been sold into prostitution. Almost 200,000 girls from Nepal, many of them under the age of 14, are working as sex slaves in India. In 2006, Time Asia interviewed Lek, a 14-year-old girl working as a prostitute in a Thai brothel who tried to run away after her second day. The brothel’s owner found out where she was: “Mama San paid the police to come and arrest me. They held me there with only bread and water for three days. After that I was too afraid to run away.” Another 14-year-old prostitute, Tip, told the reporter: “We don’t have feelings anymore… We cleared them out.”

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