United Nations Association of Greater Oklahoma City
United Nations Association of the USA
Greater Oklahoma City Chapter
P.O. Box 60856
Oklahoma City, OK   73146-0856
Contact Us
May 29, 2011
How the United Nations Helps to Promote
Economic Development and Human Rights
by Prohibiting the Use of Child Labor
How You Can Help
The International Labor Organization (ILO)
estimates that there are 215 million
under-age workers in the world.
“Ending labour exploitation
is our shared responsibility
and duty to the children of
this world, each of whom
deserves the opportunity to
achieve his or her God-given
-- U.S. Secretary of State
Hillary Rodham Clinton
The Problem of Child Labor
Commentary by Bill Bryant
President, Oklahoma City Chapter
United Nations Association of the USA
If you have ever seen Hans Rosling's
TED Talk about the Millennium
Development Goals (
"The Good News
of the Decade?"
), you realize that the
global community is making progress.  
Over a span of decades, entire nations
have been able to lift themselves out of
poverty.  Every year, millions of people are getting a taste of
economic security as our old enemies -- ignorance, hunger,
disease -- are being subdued.  

There are many reasons for this progress.  Advances in scientific
knowledge have been crucial, of course.  Improved transportation
and communication systems have led to an increase in trade and commerce.  
As the drudgery of a perilous existence has been diminished, more room has been created for natural human
ingenuity to express itself.  We have been able to find new ways to use the resources of our planet to produce
goods and services to advance the human condition.   

In the traditional liberal sense of the word, increased "freedom" has been the result of this progress for hundreds of
millions of people around the globe.

The key to all of this progress has been education.  Over the course of generations,
basic literacy has increased. More students are completing high school.  Post-secondary
education has become the goal of young people who aspire to a good life for them-
selves and their families.  

Education is so fundamental to the development of a modern, progressive society that
the right to education has been recognized in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights:

"Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the
elementary and fundamental stages.  Elementary education shall be compulsory.
Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and
higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit."

In Oklahoma, our state's compulsory attendance laws follow the guidance
of the Universal Declaration:  

"It shall be unlawful for a parent, guardian, or other person having
custody of a child who is over the age of five (5) years, and under the age
of eighteen (18) years, to neglect or refuse to cause or compel such child
to attend..." school -- whether it is public, private, or home school.  
(Oklahoma Statutes, §70-10-105).  

On an individual level, a good education opens doors of opportunity.  We all know that, on the average, high
school graduates in America earn much more than dropouts -- $1 million more over a lifetime of work.  
Source: Alliance for Excellent Education,
2008).  Post-secondary certifications --
college, etc -- bring even greater levels
of income and job security.

Given these facts, who wouldn't want for
every child to have the chance for a good

Well, the sad fact is, there is a minority
viewpoint on this issue.  That is, there are
people in our state who advocate for policies
of less-than-universal education.  They aren't heard from very often, but they do express themselves from time to
time.  Their peculiar opinions can be found in online forums and blogs.  

As an example, an editorial was published recently by The Oklahoman newspaper.  It advocated increased standards
for our state's school attendance policies.  (
"Changes Needed for Oklahoma's Dropout Law," January 25, 2011).

editorial was posted online at NewsOK.com, and the comments from
readers were mostly positive.  But, several people took exception:

"Once again the government is sticking its nose in where it does not belong.  
Some kids have no business in school at any age....  This is just another case
where the government is overreaching its authority so it can grow the size of
--Dale, Cheyenne

"Let them drop out.  The world needs ditch diggers and fast food employees."
--Iron Sulfide, Okc

"Great -- more Oklahoma socialism."
--Ken, Midwest City

It is clear from these comments that the advocates of less-than-universal
education are really arguing for the exploitation of children so that menial jobs
may be filled by poorly educated workers with limited economic opportunities.  In essence, they favor the
maintenance of a permanent underclass of low-skill, low-wage workers.

Such a pernicioius, abusive, and illiberal point of view would be shocking if we didn't know that there is a pattern
of child exploitation that occurs in poor communities around the globe on a regular basis.  Wherever poverty is
rampant and the enforcement of school attendance laws is lax, children are
recruited to perform work at substandard wages.  

The International Labor Organization, ILO, has been tracking the number of child
laborers in the world.  Approximately 215 million children were classified as child
laborers in 2008 -- the most recent report available.  Child laborers are children,
age 5 to 17, who:
(a) Are under the minimum age for work; or
(b) Are above that age and engaged in work that poses a threat to their health,
safety or morals; or
(c) Are subject to conditions of forced labor.
Source: "Accelerating action against child labour - ILO Global report on child labour 2010"

More than half of these children are involved in hazardous work.  The ILO
defines "hazardous" work as,
"...Work that by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm children’s health,
safety or morals."

Hazardous work may include work underground, with dangerous machinery, in an unhealthy environment, work
performed for long hours, and work done at night.

"In its most extreme forms," the
ILO reports, "Child labour involves children being enslaved, separated from their
families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities –
often at a very early age."  The worst forms of child labor involve violent conflict (
child soldiers), human
trafficking, and prostitution.

The Good News.  

The good news is that the world community is making a concerted effort to
end child labor.  Some measurable success has been seen.

On a global level, the ILO -- a specialized agency of the United Nations --
is leading in the development of international standards for regulating child
labor.  Two major international
agreements have been reached.  One, ILO
Convention No. 138, establishes guidelines for governments to follow with regard to the minimum age of
admission to employment and work.  The second agreement, ILO Convention No. 182, helps to define the
worst forms of child labor and to set a priority on their elimination.  

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (
CRC) provides additional protection.  It specifies the right of the
child to be protected from economic exploitation including work likely to be hazardous (article 32).

These international agreements help to establish policy goals for nations and states to achieve.  ILO uses these
agreements as authority to monitor child labor in many nations around the world -- advocating for effective
enforcement and pushing for corporate social responsibility.  

Beyond the legal framework for regulating child labor, the
world community is responding to the problem of under-
age workers by promoting programs that help children to
remain in school.  

In the Millennium Development Goals, universal primary
education has been formally recognized as a global objective
for all the nations of the world.  

UN agencies as well as many non-governmental organizations have embraced this goal.  UNICEF, for example,
tailors different types of programs to suit the needs of specific countries.  These include an initiative to abolish
school fees, the creation of educational standards, etc.  The United Nations Girls Education Initiative helps to tackle
the problem of gender inequality.  (Source:

Another well-known example is the World Food Program's School
Feeding Program.  Working in 60 nations around the world, WFP
provides food for around 20 million children each year.  This
program has a measurable positive effect on school attendance.  
You can read about the program here:

Thanks to the leadership of the United Nations -- combined with
the efforts of individual nations, states, civil society organizations, etc. -- the world is making progress.  

UNICEF reports that, "School attendance rates are rising rapidly worldwide.  For example, in five developing
countries, primary net attendance rates increased by 10 percentage points from 2000 to 2006, and the gender gap
is narrowing."

The number of out-of-school children is substantially lower than it was in 2000.  

In terms of underage workers, the ILO has published a detailed
report showing that "the number of children
aged 5-17 years in child labour decreased modestly" from 2004 to 2008.  

"The number of children in hazardous work declined by 13 million, from 128 million in 2004 to 115 million in
2008. The decrease was significant among girls and particularly strong in the 5- to 14- year-old age cohort."

There is obviously much more that can be done to assure that children are able to attend school and are
protected from exploitation in the labor market.  The world community is making a difference.  The data
convince us that further progress is possible.  
“There is no longer room
for children out of
school. There is no
longer room for children
without care and
protection. There is no
longer room for children
facing any kind of
violation or children
deprived from their
childhood. Children have
the right to be children.”
-- Minister Marcia Helena
Carvalho Lopes, from the
Brazilian Ministry of
Social Development and
the Fight Against Hunger
News Item: "Factory Owner Beats
10-Yr-Old Worker to Death."
(1)  Support Oklahoma's compulsory school
attendance laws.  

(2)  Learn about Oklahoma's
Child Labor Law, and
support its enforcement.

(3)  Participate in
"Walk the World" -- supporting the School
Feeding Program of the United Nations World Food Program.

(4)  Let Congress know that you want it to ratify the Convention
on the Rights of the Child.  Find more info at our
Children's Day" webpage.

(5)  Organize an observance of the
World Day Against Child Labor (June 12th)
in your community.

(6)  Support the "Girl Up" program of the United
Nations Foundation.  Through Girl Up's support,
girls have the opportunity to become educated,
healthy, safe, counted, and positioned to be the
next generation of leaders.  

(7)  Support positive American engagement with the
United Nations by becoming a member of the United
Nations Association of the USA.  Join here:
7 Things You Can Do
To Help End Child Labor:
The Metropolitan Library System has a
video on the subject of child labor.  
It is part of our DVD video series,
“What’s Going On?”
 Find out more ... ...