Inayah Huda: The Real Face of Child Labour Today

Inayah is aged 16 and studying for her A Levels in Chemistry, Biology, Maths and Further Maths. She writes about current affairs that she is interested in, in relation to the local community.

Child labour has been an issue concerning many worldwide. Astoundingly, children as young as 10 are made to be 'victims of political, economic, cultural, religious and environmental discrimination'. And who exactly would be to blame for the mental, physical and financial dilemmas and traumas these innocent, often orphaned children face across so many of the industrialising or even less developed countries? Instead of being educated like every child here I have encountered, they are forced to work for some very little extra income for their family living in (near) poverty due to having no other alternative. Other reasons for children working from such a young age include them becoming orphaned, for example by 2001, the UN estimated that a staggering 13 million children aged below 15 worldwide had lost one or even both parents due to AIDS or HIV, with 50% of these children becoming orphans under the age of 10. So, they are compelled take on the responsibility of earning for the remaining members of their family - their siblings and themselves. In other instances, a serious family breakdown, for example a divorce or death of one parent, would mean that only one parent would be left to take care of more children than s/he could afford, hence driving the family into poverty or compelling the parent to make his/her child to work from a very early age.

It is extremely startling to discover the role that many reputable transnational companies (TNCs), such as Apple and huge clothing brands, namely Primark found in almost every high street here in London, play by employing such young, vulnerable children and paying such mediocre wages sometimes even near no income, in order to create high quality products and sell them for relatively 'good' prices to us consumers living in the more developed well-off countries knowing little of the nightmares such young minds face on a daily basis. For example, only very recently in 2013 it was uncovered on a BBC Panorama episode that Primark pays countless children, under the age of 16, a daily wage of solely 60 pence. 60 pence is all these children receive after their hard labour, showing how little the employers care for the wellbeing of these helpless and destitute children. Moreover, many TNCs such as those in China, producing high quality technological devices were found to have had children working in treacherous mines day and night, navigating their way around hazardous, muddy and slippery paths and hills at dangerous heights, to gather the raw materials required to eventually produce the touch screen phone we own, jeopardising their health and lives, ultimately leading to so many deaths even just several days after the workers began their job. Young workers in such companies are also made to handle dangerous, complex machinery, equipment and tools or manually handle and transport heavy loads such as metals, causing great damage to their physical health. There are also others who work indoors but are still in a surprisingly unhealthy environment with thousands of others working in confined, crowded, dirty workspaces and being exposed to hazardous chemicals and processes, as well as exceedingly high noise levels with the machinery constantly running, vibrations and extreme temperatures. This would increase the risk of spreading disease due to the children working so closely together, once again leading to great damage to their health. Shockingly many of the young workers were also discovered to have committed suicides due to the immensely harsh working conditions and mental strain the wealthy managers and employers put on them, and as a result eventually anti-suicide nets were put up in certain factories to prevent this from happening again.

Clearly this should all be an indication to us that there is something wrong with the a lot of our goods are being manufactured. As consumers who frequently buy products from these TNCs, with every single one of us owning our very own hightech mobile phone, we should not only be aware of how these young people are being treated in various regions around the world, but help improve their quality of life and educational opportunities available for them. As young people living in conditions that are so much more favourable with education being at the heart of most of our lives here, we must start empathising with these children and speak out to ameliorate their lifestyle and enable them to have a brighter future.

As it is such a major global issue, many of us may feel that it is simply impossible to tackle. Although it would be right to believe that no single action would be able to bring child labour or the trauma these young children suffer from to a halt, it is important to consider that it could be possible with a series of coordinated actions. For example, by first addressing the exact root causes of this serious issue; creating a safe, protective environment for these children who may be at risk of any form of violence abuse and exploitation from their employer(s) at work, perhaps by withdrawing them from that workplace or supporting them in other ways; government regulation and monitoring any initiatives to stop child labour, as in numerous cases this could cause more harm than good and restrict the children from earning anything at all. For example, in the 1990s in Bangladesh thousands of teenage girls were dismissed from work when employers believed that the garments manufactured would be boycotted due to publicity of children working in their factories. Moreover, children should be encouraged or prevented from leaving school and prematurely starting to work in the labour market. We, as the consumers who sustain the existence of some of these TNCs employing child labour could also possibly reduce the number of purchases made from them. Instead we should implement and support organisations like fair trade which guarantee decent wages and working environments for farmers and other workers, and importantly play a role in combatting child labour.