Working children are those under the age of 18 who work full or part-time. It can be factory work, mining, prostitution, quarrying, agriculture, helping in the parents’ business, having one’s own small business (for example selling food), or doing odd jobs. Some children work as guides for tourists, sometimes combined with bringing in business for shops and restaurants (where they may also work as waiters). Other children are forced to do tedious and repetitive jobs such as: assembling boxes, polishing shoes, stocking a store’s products, or cleaning. Often, children start out working by their mother’s side in markets, but normally by the age of 4 or 5 they become more ambulatory and work increasingly alone or in groups of children.
Child labour is common in poor parts of the world, like Latin America, Africa or some parts of Asia. According to UNICEF, there are an estimated 158 million children aged 5 to 14 in child labour worldwide, excluding child domestic labour.
Working children face a lot of problems. First, because they spend most of their lives working on the street, they are much more vulnerable than non-working children to sexual and physical assaults by strangers, gang pressure, the temptations to steal, prostitution, health problems from working on the street (such as poor-hygiene induced problems such as scabies and lice, malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, problems with parasites and diarrea, sleep deprivation and environment stresses), and drug addiction. The children, who generally live with their family and work on the street and in the markets, suffer from many problems. Often, the families set specific quotas for the children which determine how much they have to sell each day. If the child does not meet this quota, he or she could be subject to severe, often physical, punishment. In some cases, working children resort to petty theft in order to come home with enough money so that they are not beaten. Most working children do not get a basic education. The poverty of most families with working children is so extreme that the parents worry more about day-to-day survival than making a future investment in their children by providing them with education. Besides the missed income, another reason the parents are unable or unwilling to send their children to school is that school is not free.
The big problem is, that the child labour is not only prevents children from acquiring the skills and education they need for a better future, but it also perpetuates poverty and affects national economies through losses in competitiveness, productivity and potential income. Just because of these two reasons is necessary to find the way how to stop it. Countries try to struggle against child labour by different restrictions and prohibitions. And also the International Labour Organization created the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC).