The global economic crisis is forcing more children around the world into the worse forms of child labor, international relief and development organization World Vision warns.
"Poverty drives people to desperate measures. And in dire situations, children become one of two things: a source of income or a drain on the income," Jesse Eaves, World Vision's policy advisor for children in crisis and a son of missionaries, explained to The Christian Post.
As demand from the West falls and the number of export-driven jobs decreases amid the economic downturn, businesses in countries like Cambodia, India and Thailand are likely to lay off workers without advanced warning, thus forcing families to find other income sources through their children.
In Cambodia, Eaves noted, 72 percent of children in brick factories say they're there because their parents cannot afford to buy food and 22 percent say their parents forced them to work to pay off debt.
In Phuket, Thailand, World Vision reported seeing a dramatic increase in local and migrant children searching for work in tourist bars and clubs.
And on the east coast of India, children are making gravel, smashing rocks in 100 degree heat up to 16 hours a day, noted Eaves, who visited Southeast Asia earlier this year to examine the problems on the ground.
Already, 126 million children in the world are working in hazardous conditions and 1.2 million are trafficked and exploited every year as child laborers, Eaves pointed out. Sexual exploitation is the most common form of human trafficking followed by forced labor and child soldiers.
"Many families are naive when recruiters come to their home and promise their 14-year-old daughter a wonderful job in the city," Eaves said. "Often, they fall into slavery and are forced to pay off an imaginary debt to keep them in bondage. But [the recruiters] often send money back to the parents so the parents think she's making money."
Families are also digging a deeper hole when they send children to work. Children earn 20 percent less than the average laborer, Eaves pointed out.
"So child labor causes poverty and poverty causes child labor. It's a dangerous spiral downward."
One way to break the cycle is to educate the community.
World Vision is running programs to educate children about their basic rights and on national laws regarding child labor. The children then inform their peers as well as their parents, turning their communities into almost an "intelligence network," Eaves said.
Through the word-of-mouth network, attitudes toward child labor begin to change and women and children come out saying "we will not tolerate this anymore," Eaves explained.
They soon gain the support of local and national government officials and employers.
Families are further directed to obtain microcredit loans and start their own businesses.
"It's all about working with communities, changing their attitudes and the way they look at how they can earn a sustainable living," Eaves said.
People in the West also can play a major role in tackling child labor and exploitation.
"The key thing to understand with child labor is it begins and ends with you and me," Eaves said. "It's all about demand. We're part of the problem and part of the solution."
World Vision is urging all government agencies and non-governmental organizations to include child-specific interventions in all economic development and stimulus plans.
"Right now it's appropriations time. A lot of money is being allocated. We're calling for U.S. policy and foreign assistance to continue to take a child-focused approach," Eaves said.
The World Vision policy advisor also urges the American people to take action by calling their senators to fund programs combating child labor and exploitation.
"In Cambodia, in the same way they'll stand up and say they won't tolerate this, we can do the same thing," he emphasized.
On the Web: www.worldvision.org/seekjustice