The International Labor Organization has declared June 12, World Day Against Child Labor.
As a father and grandfather, I know there is no feeling like any other than to hold your child or grandchild for the first time. No parent should ever have to look at a tiny infant and fear that one day that child would be a victim of exploitative child labor. No grandparent should ever fear that they will lose their grandchild to a sweatshop. But that’s precisely the reality today for millions the world over.
Just think about it: roughly 168 million boys and girls throughout the world are involved in child labor. That exceeds the entire population of Russia. More than half of these children are laboring in hazardous conditions – sewing shirts in cramped factories, seeding and harvesting cotton fields in oppressive heat, or forced to carry a rifle in a war they don’t understand. Many never get to attend school, adult responsibilities are forced on them at a young age, and many more are forced to grow up too fast, simply to help provide for their families. Combatting these challenges is a major focus of the State Department’s mission. If we’re going to break the chains of poverty and abuse that make children so vulnerable, then we must promote internationally recognized worker rights.
That’s why we use our annual reports, including the Human Rights Report and Trafficking in Persons Report, to bring these critical issues to light. It’s why we work with other government agencies and our partner countries to empower civil society with tools that make a difference for children and their families. And it’s why this year we support the ILO in focusing on social protection as a way to keep children in school and out of the workplace.