Millions of African children at risk of labor exploitation
Jan 31, 2014

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JOHANNESBURG (IMB)—A young child sits on the side of the road in Madagascar crushing rocks with a hammer almost too heavy for him to hold.

Another accidently slices his hand open with a machete while opening cocoa pods on a plantation in Ghana.

A young teenage girl, trafficked for the sex industry, walks the beaches of Kenya looking for business.

A young boy squats naked in a mineshaft in Burkina Faso, chipping ore and loading it into buckets all day long.

A child soldier in the DR Congo carries an automatic weapon he was forced to use to kill villagers he knew.

The words of a young child in South Africa, originally written as a poem in the Xhosa language, read:

How can I live in this world?

Oh, what can I do?

It is so dark ahead of me.

Mother and father do not want us.

They sell us to thugs.

Every day millions of children in Africa are at risk of being exploited, resulting in slave-like working conditions. Their childhood is forever lost.

“Forced labor robs children of a childhood, which in turn negatively affects their ability to be constructive members of their communities for the rest of their lives,” explains Mark Hatfield, Africa Director of Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist humanitarian aid and relief organization.

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“Forced child labor deals a mental blow to the individual child, taking away his ability to dream about a future outside of his present status,” Hatfield says.

According to the International Labour [sic] Organization (ILO), an agency of the United Nations (UN), Africa has the world’s largest child labor population, with the agriculture and mining sectors among the worst offenders.

Poverty is cited as the primary reason for forced child labor in Africa.

The problem is severe in sub-Saharan Africa where more than 40 percent of all children aged 5-14, about 48 million children, work for survival, according to the ILO. Child trafficking for the purpose of labor is common throughout the continent. Family members often exchange children for money, goods or gifts.

“Children forced to work before they reach a reasonable age limits their future capabilities by taking away their right to a basic education, which can be the springboard out of poverty,” Hatfield says. “Child labor perpetuates the poverty cycle by keeping the child in a low income, subsistence-only status all their lives.”

According to the UN, in expanding economies the demand for labor increases. Unable to cope with high production quotas, industries turn to exploitative child labor. “Children and teenagers enter the risk of being used as cheap labor,” a UN report states. “Most of these children are vulnerable due to poverty. They are unaware of their rights, overworked, can’t resist.”

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