Six myths about modern-day child slavery

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Wednesday is International Day for the Abolition of Slavery
In the lead up to International Day for the Abolition of Slavery (Dec. 2), World Vision’s child protection policy advisor, Reena Vohra, debunks six myths about the worst forms of child labour. Photo/World Vision
(December 01, 2016)
Myth #1: Times have changed.  Not many children are working now.
“A staggering 85 million of the world’s children are involved in the worst kinds of child labour. This is not simply chores around the family home or farm, but rather work that is dirty, dangerous and degrading.  It is labour that exploits children, such as working with dangerous machinery, or handling harsh dyes and chemicals, in places like garment factories, mines, fields or plantations, without any protective gear,” says Reena Vohra, World Vision’s child protection policy advisor.
Myth #2:  Working is still a choice.  Children aren’t forced to do it.
“Not all these children have a choice. Children around the world continue to be trapped in situations where they are forced to work such as domestic servitude and bonded labour. Desperation leads to difficult choices for families.  What World Vision has also seen through our work is that without a parent to care for them, children in some of the world’s poorest regions often have no choice but to live on the streets and work to survive,” says Vohra. 
Myth #3: It’s a way of life over there.  Children don’t expect any different.
“Some children may resign themselves to working in hazardous jobs for either their families’ survival or their own.  But they are still children, no different than kids here in Canada, with dreams for their future. They feel heartbreak when they see other children able to attend school and play, while they are suffering in dangerous working environments. When opportunities are ripped away, it hurts,” says Vohra.
Myth #4: Children work to help their families survive.  It would be wrong to take them away.
“The first part is true – contributing a few dollars a day to the family income can make a big difference.  But this raises the issue of why a child’s wages are necessary in the first place.  Many parents become ill or disabled by harmful working conditions they themselves have endured.  Or there hasn’t been enough money to prevent an illness from getting worse.  If parents were paid fair wages for their labour, if safer working conditions meant they were less likely to be injured or killed on the job, children are much less likely to work,” says Vohra.
Myth #5: This is all terrible, but none of it is my fault. 
“No one means to exploit children in other countries, but many Canadian shoppers are complicit without even knowing how.  World Vision’s research shows that imports to Canada come to us through supply chains which could well include child labour along the way.  But because the supply chains are so long and complicated, it’s very difficult for Canadian shoppers to know which companies are better than others," says Vohra. 
Myth #6: The issue is too big and complicated!  I can’t do anything to help.
Like the original abolitionists who fought the Transatlantic Slave Trade by using whatever gifts and resources they had, Canadians can do small things to make a big difference.  Here are two suggestions:
  • Email companies and ask what they do to ensure their products are child-labour free.  The more questions companies receive, the more likely they are to act.  Consider e-mailing them the following link: Behind Our Labels: 10 steps companies can take
  • Sign a petition calling on Canadian companies and government to work toward making supply chains more transparent, so consumers can make more informed choices. (The UK’s recently passed Modern Slavery Act will now require large to publically disclose their efforts to address modern slavery in their supply chains.)