Opinion: Is protecting children from labor exploitation a distant dream?

Opinion: Is protecting children from labor exploitation a distant dream? - Business and Finance - News

The Regression of Child Labor Protections in the 21st Century: A Global Concern

The tragic death of a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy in a US meat processing plant deboning machine in July 2023 serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing issue of child labor, which has seen an alarming resurgence in recent years. This incident, the third fatal accident at the same facility since 2020, comes as the Department of Labor reports a 37% increase in child labor law violations and a 26% rise in minors working in hazardous jobs during the same period.

A Nod to History:
Although it may seem like a scene from the past, we find ourselves in the 21st century grappling with this regressive trend. Campaigners during the early 1900s documented similar cases, with the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) and Lewis Hines’ impactful photographs of children working in deplorable conditions inspiring significant progress. This period culminated in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and a societal shift that prioritized child welfare above employment.

Losing Ground:
Regrettably, the NCLC disbanded just seven years ago in 2017, with its mission seemingly accomplished. However, without this watchdog’s presence, states have found it relatively easy to roll back the hard-earned protections for children. Since 2022, ten US states have introduced or passed legislation that allows minors to receive lower minimum wages, work longer hours, and take on hazardous occupations.

The Changing Landscape:
It is crucial to acknowledge that the children subjected to these unacceptable working conditions today are primarily new migrants, many of whom have crossed the southern US border unaccompanied. These children face pressure to earn wages to support themselves and their families who are often forced back across the border, leading them into exploitative employment situations. This issue is not unique to the US; globally, progress against child labor has stagnated since 2016, with an estimated 1 in 10 children working today and 12 million of these children experiencing modern slavery conditions.

Rising Concerns:
The current climate, characterized by a lack of political will for change and exacerbated by economic and environmental pressures, poses a significant threat to the safety and wellbeing of children. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Target 8.7 aims to end modern slavery among children by 2025 and for all by 2030, but this dream is increasingly becoming unrealistic as protections continue to erode.

Reviving the Campaign:
It’s essential that we don’t give up on this dream and instead revive the campaign to protect children from exploitation. We cannot afford to stand idly by while children are forced into dangerous, dehumanizing labor conditions that jeopardize their health, education, and future prospects. As a global community, we must demand a society where children are not viewed as expendable resources but cherished members deserving of protection and opportunities for growth.