Last Sunday was “World Day Against Child Labour,” a recognition by the United Nations’ International Labour Organization that — from agriculture to manufacturing — 168 million children around the world are still involved in child labor.
Too often, that means long hours of work for meager pay, if any.
While that number is far too high, it has decreased by almost a third since 2000, down from 246 million that year.
But there is still a long way to go to wipe out this scandalous practice. Many children work hazardous jobs in dangerous conditions.
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Asia and the Pacific region are still the worst places for child labor, along with sub-Saharan Africa. But Latin America and the Middle East are not heaven for children either.
And there is a new blot on humanity rising in the Middle East and Eastern Europe: refugee child workers.
During the civil war in Syria more than 7 million people have been displaced.
Turkey hosts the most — more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees, including more than 1 million children. About 90 percent of all the refugees are in Istanbul and other cities. The rest are in camps.
According to UNICEF, almost 451,000 of the Syrian children in Turkey are unable to get a formal education there. Most of them have to work, often at illegal textile and shoe factories in Istanbul and the city of Gaziantep.
When Syrian refugees who live in cities and towns don’t earn enough money to live, they force their kids to work. Some children work in illegal factories, while others sell tissue and bottled water, especially on the streets of Istanbul.
The monthly minimum wage is around $450 for workers in Turkey. However, Syrian children typically earn only $120 to $160. Employers often claim they give the refugee children an opportunity to earn money because they want to help the young people.
This is absurd. Both international and domestic laws in Turkey ban child labor.
UNICEF has a program to create better conditions for refugee children in Turkey and other countries in the region. Solving this problem will require focusing on two major issues.
▪ Many famous clothing brands in Europe have links to Turkey’s illegal textile factories. To prevent child labor, serious sanctions should be levied against both the companies and the factory owners.
▪ The working culture in the Middle East allows child labor, even though it’s illegal. Some parents still prefer that their kids earn money instead of getting an education. The U.N., the European Union and the civic rights movement in Turkey all can help change this culture.
Child labor is a shame for humanity, and it is necessary to have a strong collaboration to prevent it.