Issued by the Catholic Center for Studies and Media - Jordan. Editor-in-chief Fr. Rif'at Bader - موقع أبونا

Published on Thursday, 9 June 2022
Child labor and afflicted humanity

Dr. Michel E. Abs/ Secretary General of the Middle East Council of Churches :

June 12 is the Day against Child Labor. This is how it was delimited by the United Nations, which, through its various institutions, is considered as a spearhead in the fight against this scourge that wounds humanity to its core.


The statistics included on the United Nations website dealing with this topic consider that during the year 2020, 10 percent of children five years and above participated in child labor worldwide, or  a total of 160 million children, 60 percent of whom were boys.


This phenomenon is not new and should not surprise the reader.


Children have worked since the beginning of history and we find them in various fields, starting with helping parents in agricultural work, to the so-called warrior children, passing through all kinds of craft work, with parents or in a workshop where the working child is apprenticed for a profession.


But the crisis began with the Industrial Revolution, which extended from 1780 to approximately 1870, changing the structures of the societies in which it evolved thus establishing the modern industrial society and the subsequent societal forms that were characterized by what was termed “modernity”.


During that "revolution," which witnessed the demise of old civilized and cultural models and the emergence of new forms of human society, children suffered greatly in an era that may be the most difficult in the history of peaceful human transformations. During this period that witnessed the collapse of the old value systems of societies that were on the road to industrialization, human relations were characterized by high ugliness and cruelty, and children suffered greatly as they constituted, as they do today, the weakest link in the social structure.


In this context, the novel by the French writer Emile Zola, entitled "Germinal", is one of the most wonderful books written about this stage in human history when mercy was lost and people turned into a state of social brutality and alienation.


It is necessary to draw attention to the fact that the countries that were on the road to industrialization have deployed efforts to enact laws regulating child labor, but most of what these laws were able to do was to specify 12 years instead of 8 years as a minimal age for child labor in factories, or other similar measures that did not succeed In protecting the most vulnerable and least protected group in human society.


Christianity's position on childhood and its protection, preservation and care constituted a basic reference to urge the human community to do what it must in order to protect this social group, which is considered as the most promising future for human society.


Is it acceptable for those whom we call as our very hearts and the hope of the future to be subject to various types of abuse, mistreatment, and exploitation?


A human society, which allows for the above  fate of 160 million of its children, as we witness in the world today, is a crisis society that needs a shock-treatment to bring it back to its senses.


We do not deny that great progress has been made in curbing child labor between 2000 and 2020, as the number of working children decreased by 85.5 million during that period, but we are witnessing a return to the rise of this child labor trend again due to the deteriorating economic conditions at the global level, especially in societies that suffer from poverty. 


Moreover, what comes next is greater.


Beyond statistics and socio-economic studies, daily observations constitute a scandalous sample of what children endure in societies experiencing instability or wars, and inevitably, displacement and asylum.


The sight of children gathering around waste containers, searching for that which satisfies their cravings or the yearnings of their parents, does not require analysis or interpretation. It is equivalent to the sight of children rushing to cars parked at traffic lights, begging for money or for food. There is no need to describe their miserable condition or their behavior that inspires humiliating pain.


But if you ask them why they are on the road and not at school, they give you smart and decisive answers, such as “I do not have a father” or “I do not have parents and I work to support my mother and brothers”… answers that are either real or formulae that their employers have taught them to utter. Yes, child beggars have employers who distribute them at intersections and gather them in the evening in order to collect the "harvest".


In front of this scene, and thousands of scenes similar to it like children exploited in smuggling, sex tourism, hazardous industries, work in mines, or children given by their parents in exchange for a debt, Christianity stands up and asks: Did you not hear what the Lord Incarnate said about children: “Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in my Name, receives me: and whosoever receives me, receives not me, but Him that sent me. (Mark 9:37)


Moreover, so said the Master who has also expressed the Father's will when He also said, "Let the little children come unto me, and do not forbid them, for to such people is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:13-14)


Humanity is deaf, but its duty is to know that “it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 14:18), but that their health, dignity and knowledge be preserved.


Humanity, immersed in its opulence to the point of intoxication scrimps at children with appropriate programs in order to save them from the fiery furnace that modernity and consumer society have plunged into. At the global level, national spending on social protection for children is only 1.1 per cent of GDP. In underserved countries that witness the highest rates of child labor, spending does not exceed 0.4 per cent of GDP on programs for the social protection of children, knowing that current statistics indicate the return of child labor to a rise again in such areas.


As we face of this tragic scene and this cloudy horizon, we ask the international community, which calls itself the society that promotes freedoms and human rights - the rights of the child - are you aware of the next society that you are coming to?


If you want to change it, the teachings of the Savior are very clear. But if you desire it as it is, because your interests require it, you will regret it when regret is of no avail.