Contributing to the debate on the rights dimension of the International Labour Organization (ILO) has estimated that 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen work in developing countries—at least 120 million on a full time basis. Sixty-one percent of these are in Asia, 32 percent in Africa, and 7 percent in Latin America. Most working children in rural areas are found in agriculture; many children work as domestics; urban children work in trade and services, with fewer in manufacturing and construction.
Child labor ranges from four-year-olds tied to rug looms to keep them from running away, to seventeen-year-olds helping out on the family farm. In some cases, ...view middle of the document...
Some are denied freedom of movement—the right to leave the workplace and go home to their families. Some are abducted and forced to work. The human rights abuses in these practices are clear and acute. We have found similar problems in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and the United States: children who work for too many hours and too many days, for too little, or sometimes no pay, subject often to physical abuse, exposed to dangerous pesticides, and made to work with too dangerous tools. Our objectives in tackling these aspects of the complex and troubling child labor issue include drawing attention to the plight of child workers, helping to end these appalling practices, and larger issue of children and work.
Of nearly 250 million children engaged in child labor around the world, the vast majority—70 percent, or some 170 million—are working in agriculture. Child agricultural workers frequently work for long hours in scorching heat, haul heavy loads of produce, are exposed to toxic pesticides, and suffer high rates of injury from sharp knives and other dangerous tools. Their work is grueling and harsh, violating their rights to health, education, and protection from work that is hazardous or exploitative.
According to the ILO's new report on child labor, the number of children working in agriculture is nearly ten times that of children involved in factory work such as garment manufacturing, carpet-weaving, or soccer-ball stitching. Yet despite their numbers and the difficult nature of their work, children working in agriculture have received little attention compared to child labor in manufacturing for export or children involved in commercial sexual exploitation.
In investigations in Egypt, Ecuador, India, and the United States, Human Rights Watch has found that the children working in agriculture are endangered and exploited on a daily basis. Human Rights Watch found that despite the vast differences among these four countries, many of the risks and abuses faced by child agricultural workers were strikingly similar.
In Egypt, Human Rights Watch examined the cotton industry, Egypt's major cash crop, where over one million children work each year to manually remove pests from cotton plants. In Ecuador, where nearly 600,000 children work in the rural sector, the organization investigated conditions for children working in banana fields and packing plants. In the United States, Human Rights Watch examined conditions for the estimated 300,000 children who work as hired laborers in large-scale commercial agriculture, planting, weeding, and picking apples, cotton, cantaloupe, lettuce, asparagus, watermelons, chilies, and other crops. In India, Human Rights Watch looked at bonded child laborers working in agriculture as part of a larger study of bonded child labor. There are as many as 15 million bonded child laborers in India, most of whom are Dalits (untouchables) or lower caste. More than half, and possibly as many as 87...