Beyond beginning with the letter B, what do bricks, blueberries, bangles, beets, beans, bananas, beef, broccoli, brassware and bamboo have in common?

Their tragic commonality is that they are among the numerous goods produced by worldwide child labor.

Despite being in violation of international standards set forth under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005, child labor continues to thrive in 2017.

And while child labor practices are most often encountered in countries that are war torn and poverty stricken some occur in first-world nations, including the United States of America.

Every summer, poor and mostly brown children as young as 14 spend long hot humid days in North Carolina tobacco fields working for minimum wages.

They are legally prohibited from smoking and chewing tobacco because its use is dangerous to their health. Yet, despite evidence that working in direct contact with tobacco leaves is also dangerous to children, they labor to cultivate it.

We know that the U.S. is not alone in such practices.

Poor children in Uzbekistan scavenge for scrap metal in garbage dumps. Their Ghanaian counterparts salvage electronic waste dumps in search of precious aluminum and copper.

Children, as young as 5, endure potential landslides and deadly falls down deep slippery pits in Indonesian tin mines.

Nigerian children, who should be in elementary school, are instead using their bare hands in cavernous mines to dig for gold.

Thousands of Vietnamese children ages 5 to 17 spend more than 40 hours a week manufacturing footwear.

Palestinian children, who are not covered by Israeli child labor laws, work long hours in Israeli settlements.

The intricacies of the issues relating to child labor can, for some, become overwhelming.

Certainly children do not work because they want to; they are compelled into labor by need, war, corruption and the greed of those who profit from child labor. It can be difficult to determine who is at fault or who can best influence the systemic change needed to obliterate child labor practices.

Whether we should look to government regulations, business practices, economic expectations, consumer decisions, investment strategies or societal norms for solutions, child labor is a blight upon our shared humanity.

It robs children of the gift of childhood, decimates families and communities and destabilizes the efforts of developing nations to reach their economic potential.

Individuals, faith-based institutions, governments and businesses must act cooperatively to remedy its evils.

Educated consumers can influence positive changes to the supply chains for the products that we use each day.

Just as most of us have gotten accustomed to checking labels for nutrition information, cultivating a practice of checking chocolate and coffee labels for fair-trade or rainforest alliance certification can make a tremendous difference.

Similarly, becoming educated about supply chain transparency helps us to know the origins of the products and services we use, the age of the workers producing them and the conditions in which they work.

Knowing whether or not companies, such as those making garments and footwear, voluntarily share this type of information can influence our purchasing decisions, which will ultimately impact the practices of these businesses.

Much of the technology that we seemingly cannot do without has a blood-stained history. Advocating with tech companies to ensure that the minerals used in their products have not been mined by children is much needed.

Our daily purchases and financial investments in socially responsible investment strategy companies will help break the cycle of childhood labor.

Using our spheres of influence to communicate the holy call to action on behalf of the least of these is an important way that faith leaders can affect change to child labor practices.

Holy actions include asking and encouraging our followers to ask questions about the conditions workers experience and what companies and governments are doing to improve them.

We have the power to become living examples of Matthew 25 by educating ourselves about the realities of child labor, making our individual and collective voices heard to our government representatives and demanding change.

Now is the time to turn aside from personal agendas in order to lead by example, working diligently and collaboratively to heal communities broken by poverty and ignorance.

Childhood labor can be eliminated if we set about the labor required to realize its demise.

Marilyn Turner-Triplett is the American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) founding director of Rizpah’s Children, a network of community ministries focused on strategic efforts to make a difference in the lives of children in poverty in the USA and Puerto Rico. You can follow her on Twitter @mturner341 and ABHMS @abhomemission.

Editor’s note: This article is published in advance of the U.N. World Day Against Child Labor (June 12). It is the first in a two-part series. Part two by Elizabeth Goatley is available here.

Share This