June 12th marked the annual World Day Against Child Labour, a phenomenon which most people in Canada usually regard as a rare and anachronistic situation. The reality is that millions of children and youth around the world remain trapped in capitalist chains, performing backbreaking and dangerous jobs for the private profit of their bosses.
Socialists have always fought against every form of exploitation, either “disguised” in the form of legal wage labour, or clearly barbarian. Child labour is in the second category, existing since the very beginning of the inhuman capitalist system. As the World Federation of Trade Unions points out, “the fortunes of bourgeois were created by the hands and blood of children.”
Today, an estimated 168 million children work in various jobs around the world. In the Asia-Pacific region, for example, about 9.3% of the child population is forced to work. Since the outbreak of the latest capitalist crisis a decade ago, and the deepening of intra-imperialist rivalries, the exploitation of children is intensifying, always with a view to maximizing the profits of multinationals. Child workers are mainly employed in the sectors of agriculture, fishing and mining, while other children work even as modern-day slaves. Immigrant children often suffer double exploitation, even in Europe and North America, regions that boasted about having eliminated this scourge. Despite declarations by the United Nations and the ILO, millions of children suffer irreparable psychological, intellectual, social or moral injuries, and often sexual exploitation as well.
The WFTU has raised important demands on this occasion, including public, free and compulsory education for the new generation, and full access to leisure, recreation and health care for children and youth. Child labour must be abolished, along with laws which allow children or their parents to “consent” to such work.