Child Labor1

Child Labor

In the past few years, a great deal of attention has been drawn to the global problem of child labor. Virtually everyone is guilty of participating in this abusive practice through the purchase of goods made in across the globe, usually in poor, developing nations. This issue has been around for a great length of time but has come to the forefront recently because of reports that link well known American companies like Wal-Mart and Nike to the exploitation of children. Prior to this media attention, many Americans and other people in developed nation were blind to the reality of the oppressive conditions that are reality to many.
Child Labor has been in existence in different forms from the beginning of time but it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that it became the problem it is today. With the arrival of the factory system in the 18th century, Children as young as 5 were being used as workers in England. During this period, a law called the English Poor Act gave the government the responsibility to care for children that had no parents or whose parents were too poor to care for them. Under this law, the government would take these ‘pauper children’ and place them in jobs where they could become apprentices and learn a trade. The law was not usually affective because when the children were handed over to the factory owners, they usually became slaves. Other children were sold by their parents as indentured servants. Children were used to tend to machines in factories and many worked in the dark, damp coalmines, carrying coal on their backs up ladders. Many children would work 10 to 15 hour days with a small break for lunch. On top of this, the children were paid a starvation wages. The problem spread to other industrialized countries including the United States. Massachusetts passed a law in 1836 that required working children to receive some amount of schooling. Connecticut followed in 1842 with a law that created a maximum amount of hours children could work a day in a textile factory. It wasn’t until the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that real progress was made in child labor in the United States.
One example of these terrible abuses is the story of Iqbal Masih, a Pakistani child who was forced into labor as a carpet weaver. At the age of four, the boy was sold as an indentured servant to a factory owner for the equivalent of $16 dollars. Iqbal’s parents were forced to sell him in order to feed and clothe the rest of their family, a situation that is extremely common in the poor villages of India like Iqbal’s. At the factory, Iqbal would begin work around 6 a.m., working 14-hour days with one 30-minute break for lunch. The conditions in the factory were very poor with very little lighting and no fresh air. The children that worked there were not allowed to speak and were often beaten if the broke the rules or made mistakes. When Iqbal was 10 years old, he was severely beaten by the factory owner, a man named Arshbad, and decided to escape and report it to the police. When the police looked the other way, Iqbal was forced to return to the factory and was chained to his loom. Some time later, Iqbal escaped and went to a meeting of the Bonded Labor Liberation Front, an organization whose goal was to free Pakistan’s bonded workers. Here Iqbal listened to a man named Kahn talk and spoke to him afterward. With Kahn’s help, Iqbal was free and started to attend a school operated by the BLLF. Iqbal became a crusader for the rights of children, addressing crowds across India and Pakistan. His work had a large impact, reducing the export demand once people in developed nations heard of the conditions in the factories. Iqbal was awarded the Reebok Human Rights award in 1994 and continued to study hard at school with dreams of becoming a lawyer and fighting for children’s rights. Because his work had resulted in the loss of income to many factory workers due to a decrease in the export market, Iqbal was not popular with some Pakistani. This was apparent when he was gunned