Saturday, April 7, 2012

Child labor, then and now

Except in special circumstances, children in America are prevented from working under the age of 16 ever since the issue was brought to light in the early 20th c. (1st image, a young Polish spinner named Willie taking his noon rest at the Quidwick Company Mill in Anthony, Rhode Island, U.S., in a 1909 photo by Lewis R. Hine - another view here). The U.S. is among the 194 nations that have signed* the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. When it is found that developing countries are not adhering to the principles in the Convention, groups often promote economic sanctions in attempt to bring an end to child labor. The "Raise the Bar, Hershey!" Coalition, for instance, is gathering signatures on a petition to pressure Hershey and Kraft/Cadbury to stop supporting forced child labor in the West African cocoa industry. Green America encourages boycotts of clothing made around the world in sweatshop conditions. And questions are being asked about underage domestic workers being employed in India.

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So it is with some surprise that we learn that child labor has reemerged in Western Europe (2nd image, A 12-year-old working in a garage in Naples, Campania, Italy, in 2012). Kids from families in economic crisis in the city of Naples are leaving school to work up to 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. Gennaro, 14, works in a grocery store, stocking shelves and delivering orders for less than a euro an hour. Pasquale, 11, unloaded boxes in a supermarket by day and stole copper at night. Other children work in shops, market stalls, restaurants, hair salons, and tanneries and leather workshops. "Of course, we were the poorest region in Italy. But we haven’t seen a situation like this since the end of the Second World War....The younger generation has been obliged to suffer the entire weight of the worst economic crisis in the post-war period," says Naples deputy mayor Sergio d'Angelo. In 2011, a government report sounded the alarm on the surrounding Campania region, where drastic cuts in social programs have plunged more than 130,000 families into poverty. More than 54,000 children left the education system between 2005 and 2009, 38% of them less than 13 years old.

*Unlike the other countries, the U.S. has not in fact ratified the Convention, but children here, in Canada, and in Europe account for less than 1% of the labor force, compared to 17% of the workforce in Latin America, 22% in Asia, and 32% in Africa.

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