It’s that special time of the year again for kids in the northern hemisphere as they start heading back to school. And for those who have discovered the fun of learning, school is an adventure!
But for millions of working children worldwide, the adventures of a new school year remain but a dream. Sadly, these children will never learn to read or write. They will not acquire computer skills. They will not experience singing in chorus, going on field trips or playing at recess. Their classrooms will be sweatshops, farm fields, and battlefields. Their days will be filled with long, dirty, dangerous work. And the lesson they will learn is that life is cruel and unfair.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), 152 million children 5-17 years old are victims of child labor, while 73 million of these children are trapped in hazardous work. And even more tragic is that approximately 8 million children are enslaved in the worst forms of child labor — the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage, drug dealing, forced recruitment to fight in armed conflicts, prostitution and pornography.
And worst of all, according to the ILO, every year about 22,000 children are killed while working.
One of the main reasons children do not attend school, and work instead, is because adults in countless families in poor nations have not had access to a good education, learn a viable trade, or are subsistence farmers who are unable to grow enough food for their families. Thus, it sadly becomes imperative that children must work.
This enslaving chain can, and must, be broken!
The poor deserve better — especially poor children who belong in school not in sweatshops and on battlefields.
Wealthy nations have a moral obligation to justly, generously and energetically work to abolish world poverty, hunger and child labor.
For as St. Pope John Paul II said in his 1979 visit to the U.S., “The poor of the United States and of the world are your brothers and sisters in Christ. You must never be content to leave them just the crumbs from the feast. You must take of your substance, and not just of your abundance, in is order to help them. And you must treat them like guests at your family table.”
According the Christian anti-poverty organization Bread for the World less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget goes toward international poverty-focused development assistance — that’s only about 50 cents of every $100. We can, we should and we must do far better than this!
A wonderful U.S. government program that directly addresses a way out of poverty and child labor by giving poor children nourishment for both body and mind is the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program. Since 2003, it has provided school meals to over 40 million children in 40 of the world’s poorest countries, several of which are in near famine conditions.
The program would be greatly helped if the U.S. would honor Bread for the World’s request to appropriate in the 2020 fiscal year budget $215 million for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program with an additional $25 million for local and regional food purchases.
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.