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All children should be going back to school

World Vision
30 January 2015 by Ruth Dearnley
All children should be going back to school

Education is the key to a better future for children trapped in child labour. Photo by Ruth Dearnley, World Vision

I was looking through old photos recently and saw this one of a young girl I met at World Vision’s Street Children Transformation Centre in Cambodia. At the time, I wondered what she was day dreaming about whilst I took the photo.

As school kids in Australia prepare to head back to school after the holidays, it seemed timely to reflect on how different the experiences are of some of the world’s most vulnerable children.

Like many of the children at the centre, she was getting support away from a life on the streets, where they would be forced to beg or scavenge for food. Some of the children had been forced to work in dangerous conditions.

People often say that child labour must be better than struggling to survive with no work at all. But knowing the conditions some children are forced to endure, I can’t accept that.

The reality is that in many cases the work that children are doing isn’t helpful to their survival at all – it is harmful. Some jobs put their lives at risk. It keeps them trapped in poverty. And there are global economic statistics to prove it.

In the right circumstances, children and their families can benefit from jobs that bring in additional income or teach children life skills. That’s what most children in Australia experience. But child labour is very different.

At the centre I also met a boy with his leg in plaster, who had been forced to work on a construction site. With no protective equipment and poor safety standards, some equipment fell on his leg and broke it. As he was now unfit for work, he was able to escape this exploitative labour (and World Vision was able to intervene to seek help for him).

He hadn’t earned a decent wage for his dangerous labour – he had simply been put at risk, so others could profit. It was poverty and exploitation in an extreme form.

Unfortunately, ending child labour is not as simple as shutting down businesses that use child labourers and sending children back to school. If poverty has led them to need to work, then that may push them into even more dangerous conditions.

But the collective lobbying of Governments and businesses, by NGOs and individual’s is making a huge difference.

Globally we are far better at identifying exploitative situations and intervening to ensure people are protected. The number of child labourers has reduced by a third since 2000.

There is still a long way to go. There are still 168 million children who will be denied an education this year.

But looking back at this photo, I have hope. She will have a better future.

Every family supported by your ethical purchases, will have a better future.

Every donation you make can help provide income generation opportunities for parents so their children don’t have to work as much.

And every little action, takes us a step closer to ensuring that all children will one day go safely back to school.

Ruth Dearnley Ruth Dearnley

Ruth is the former Public Advocacy Manager at World Vision Australia and a passionate advocate for all the little things we can all do to make a more just world.


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