Center for Interfaith Cooperation

Hoosiers of Many Faiths in Community

The complexities of “World Day Against Child Labor”

The UN has declared June 12th to be World Day Against Child Labor. It may seem like this is a no-brainer to support. But as revealed by the “Education for Working Children & Adult Literacy Program” OBAT Helpers runs in the slums of Bangladesh, the issue is more complicated than you might think.

The United Nations has declared June 12 to be “World Day Against Child Labor.” Here’s a bit of background:

Child labor is especially rampant in many developing countries – but even in industrialized nations, many children are forced to work. According to UNICEF, children in the United States “are employed in agriculture, a high proportion of them from immigrant or ethnic-minority families.” There have also been a number of incidents of westerns companies exploiting child laborers in developing countries to save production costs.

In 2011, there were an estimated 215 million child laborers in the world – 115 million of which were involved in hazardous work. To combat child labor around the world the International Labour Organization (ILO) initiated the World Day Against Child Labor in 2002.

You can learn more about this day and the problems it highlights at the International Labor Organization’s website:–en/index.htm

It’s hard to argue with the proposition that “Children shouldn’t work in fields, but on dreams!” But the reality is more complicated. OBAT Helpers has a long-running program to provide education to kids in the Urdu-speaking camps whose family’s economic conditions force them to work:

The Education for Working Children and Adult Literacy Programs are implemented in Dhaka’s and Chittagong’s camps for working children, aged 10-12 years, as well as adults who are illiterate.  The kids enrolled here could not study as they had to work to supplement the meager earnings of their parents and hence could not go to school. Now, from 7-9 am, daily, they attend classes which are preceded by breakfast. Some of the kids in the group are adept welders, barbers, and tailors who are eager to read the newspaper or learn basic literacy skills to enable them to carry out their daily tasks at work. The adults also acquire basic literacy skills of reading and writing in classes that are held exclusively for them.

Does this mean we shouldn’t protest against children being forced to work? Of course we should. But we also need to look carefully at the realities of the lives of families living on the very edge of survival. OBAT’s program for working children led the kids’ mothers to request that they are taught to read. Like OBAT, we need to think holistically about the problem of child labor, which is often really a problem of family poverty and a lack of options.

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