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Child Labour Today
It is now the 21st century, over 200 years since cotton mills started spinning cotton and working children were part of the process from field to mill. Do you think that children still work in the cotton industry today?
Child labour is still common in some parts of the world. Child labour today means children under 18 years of age who are forced to work, instead of getting a full time education. Sadly, to this day, children as young as 5 still go out to work for up to 20 hours a day for very little or no money. This includes children from developing countries and industrialised ones. Many of these children work because they have no choice.
Children can still be found working in many dangerous places like factories, mines, quarries, on the land and other worse industries. Other children are forced to do many unskilled, repetitive jobs such as making boxes, polishing shoes, cleaning or helping in a family business to earn their keep or help to feed their family. Many can be found selling many things on the streets or hidden away in houses as servants. Almost 70% of all child workers work on the land, fishing or farming, some of them in terrible conditions. This includes cotton fields. In many poorer countries, agriculture is a very important part of the economy. There are around 132 million children under 15 years of age working the land around the world!
Most child workers can be found in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America. But child labour today is not restricted to developing countries. There are working children found in developed industrialised countries like Turkey and the Ukraine. Do you know where these regions and countries are? Have a look on a map.
The cotton industry is still big business around the world. It is the single best-selling fibre in the world. Cotton is still one of our most adaptable and widely used fibres to make clothes, linen, tarpaulins and oils. What do you know about cotton?
Cotton is still grown in areas with long, hot, dry summers with plenty of sunshine, and low humidity. The main producers are America, China, India, Egypt, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Brazil and Turkey. Egyptian cotton is still considered to be one of the most high quality cottons, just as it was 200 years ago! America and Britain are Egypt's biggest customers.
Cotton growing is still very labour intensive (needs alot of people rather than machines in many places) and so there is still a demand for cheap labour on cotton plantations. Unlike 200 years ago, alot of cotton today is genetically modified. Also, many dangerous pesticides are used to ensure that crops aren't ruined and the high demand can be met.
Children from 5 to 17 still do all types of work on the land. It is hard physical labour:
We think of cotton as a natural product. This isn't so for all cotton. On some large plantations, cotton plants are regularly sprayed with chemicals called pesticides and herbicides to control weeds and pests. These chemicals have a terrible effect on workers who have to spray the fields. Many of these are children.
Some are bonded workers. This means that they are sold by their family to work in order to repay a debt or money borrowed.
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