by Stephanie Brown,
In May, the International Labour Organization (ILO) issued the Nepal Child Labour Report. According to this report, 1.6 million children in Nepal between the ages of five and seventeen are child laborers.
1.6 million. That’s one in every five Nepalese children.
ILO bases its definition of child labor on three factors: the age of the child, the length of the workday or week, and the nature of the work. In addition, the ILO defines two subcategories of child labor: hazardous work, and the “worst forms of child labour.”
The “worst forms” of labor are so awful that they cannot be given any other name; they include child trafficking, forced or bonded child labor, commercial sexual exploitation of children, and the use of children in illicit or violent activities. These “worst forms” are so difficult to trace that they are beyond the scope of the ILO’s report.
Hazardous work includes any activity that “is likely to harm the health, safety, or morals” of the child, whether by the nature of the work or by the length of the workweek. The ILO found that 621,000 of the 1.6 million child laborers in Nepal are working in the presence of “chemical, physical, biological, [or] psychological hazards” which may “cause irreversible damage to children’s physiological development” and leave them with permanent disabilities and diseases.
621,000 children is two out of every five child laborers in Nepal. It’s two children out of every twenty-five children in the entire country.
Susmita and Parang were two such children.
When Susmita’s family could no longer provide for her, Susmita was forced to leave school and work in a carpet factory in Kathmandu.
Read her story here.
Parang began working in a carpet factory to escape his father’s abuse. But when his father “borrowed” a year’s worth of his wages, Parang had no choice but to work off the debt.
Read his story here.
Carpet weaving is a hazardous job for a number of reasons. Weavers are made to work up to 18 hours a day sitting in cramped positions in front of the looms, breathing in fiber and dust and squinting to see the threads in the darkness. For these reasons, carpet weavers often suffer from physical deformities, respiratory diseases, and vision impairment.
Children are particularly susceptible to these conditions because they are still developing. Most of them rarely get more than one paltry meal a day, which weakens them further. In this state, child weavers must keep up with the factory owner’s demands and handle sharp tools without hurting themselves, because no medical help will be offered if an accident occurs. And should the child make a mistake, as children do, the child will most likely be beaten and forced to work longer to make up for it. Most children will never make enough to pay off the “debt” they owe the factory or the labor broker.
But Susmita’s and Parang’s stories have happy endings – or rather, new beginnings. They were found and brought out of the factories by GoodWeave, an organization that works to end the use of child labor in the rug industry and to rehabilitate child laborers by providing health care and education.
Many times, parents will sell their children to labor brokers in order to fend off hunger and poverty. However, child labor merely perpetuates poverty, because children who are forced to abandon their education lose any hope of getting a good job in the future. If they survive the work into adulthood, these children will most likely see no other way to get by than to sell their own children to labor brokers, and the cycle will continue.
GoodWeave seeks to end this cycle by giving rescued child laborers the chance to return to school and finish their studies. Today, Susmita dreams of becoming a pilot, while Parang is studying to become a doctor.
But as the ILO’s report shows, there are thousands of other children who have yet to be rescued. In rural Nepal, children are traditionally expected to work beside their parents in the fields to help provide for the family. Child labor is often seen as merely an extension of this practice, regardless of what the law says. This makes the work of organizations like GoodWeave even more important, because the children working in the factories, mines, and streets have no one else to speak for them.
One in five children in Nepal is a child laborer. But organizations like GoodWeave offer hope – for the children, and for all of us.
More than 3,700 children like Susmita and Parang have been rescued from carpet factories by GoodWeave. Read some of their stories.
GoodWeave gives a label to carpet-making companies who meet their standards, certifying that no child labor was used in the creation of their carpets. Browse a list of GoodWeave-certified importers and designers.
View the ILO’s full report for more information about child labor in Nepal.
For more information on children’s rights, visit Media Voices for Children.