Sacrificial Lambs of Globalization: Child Labor in the Twenty-First Century

By Panjabi, Ranee Khooshie Lal | Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Sacrificial Lambs of Globalization: Child Labor in the Twenty-First Century


Panjabi, Ranee Khooshie Lal, Denver Journal of International Law and Policy


I. INTRODUCTION

The idea of progress has dominated global thinking for the past few centuries. Politically, progress has enshrined concepts of human rights and brought freedom and democracy to many parts of the world that had previously only known absolutism and autocracy. Economically, the notion of progress has knit the world via the pathways of globalization into an inter-dependent unit where people engage in an international division of labor involving all levels of manufacturing and service provision. The resulting growth of human-developed technology has shrunk the world in terms of communications and dissemination of knowledge on a scale never conceived before.

With this development of a vast and powerful international market place there should have been a greater sharing of profits and the benefits. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Socially, globalization has brought greater comprehension of diversity and the necessity for tolerance of the infinite variety of cultures that flourish on this amazing planet. However, economic "progress" has been largely at the expense of the most vulnerable elements of almost every society. Those elements, the poor, the illiterate, and particularly the children of the poor have paid a terrible price so that we in the richer countries might enjoy an orgy of consumerism at reasonable prices. Our need to buy and consume, but always at very low prices, has required that food and manufactured goods be produced to sell inexpensively but still provide sufficient profit. One methodology to achieve this aim is to utilize either very cheap labor--hence the export of manufacturing from the West to the developing world--or worse, much worse, to use slavery and child labor, and pay almost nothing to those who make our goods and harvest our food.

This research demonstrates that child labor prevails across the planet, in both rich and poor countries. Although it may be decreasing in some parts of the world, that is no comfort to those children caught in its brutal grip. This research has also verified the extent of international concern about this terrible practice, which robs the childhood of thousands.. The Economist stated that of "all the alleged sins of globalization, child labour has been among the most scorned." (1) Far from the promise of progress for those victims of globalization, this new internationalized marketplace has resuscitated the horrors of the past, such as slavery, human trafficking, and child labor--widely perceived as one of the most insidious of all crimes--against the most vulnerable and defenseless members of every society.

To be fair, we have progressed to the point of internationally outlawing child labor in a number of high-sounding and well-meaning legal instruments. Unfortunately, most countries only pay lip service to these instruments, while turning a blind eye to the prevalence of a practice that dooms thousands of children around the world to a life of back-breaking labor, brutal mutilation, physical and sexual torture, and emotional and psychological trauma. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has deemed the "economic exploitation of children ... an insult to humanity." (2) Any search for the reason why, in a world so dedicated to the concept of progress, such egregious human rights violations persist, only leads to the realization that children "are employed because they are easier to exploit and they can be paid less," if they are paid at all. (3)

This article seeks to emphasize the nature of the problem, the immense scope of child labor internationally, and to remind us that we already have verbal commitments and laws. What we need is a greater will to promote their implementation, and rid our world of this terrible crime that brutalizes so many children. Space constraints restrict this article to dealing specifically with two manifestations of child labor: first, agriculture, which involves most of the children who are forced to work; and second, the labor roles of children in warfare as child soldiers and as sex slaves, porters and spies. …

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