The Dignity of Human Beings to Work

The International Labor Day which is also called the May day is celebrated across the world on the 1st of May every year to promote and encourage human work. Decent work falls within the range of human rights and dignity, as such it is the right of individual citizens to get decent employment opportunities that will help uplift their dignity.

Unfortunately, today in many parts of the world we see many children being drag to work under very hard conditions. Children especially in Africa because of poverty are unable to access schools and many are being exploited as laborers. The International Labor Organization defines child labor as “work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling by: depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work”. It is important to note that not all work done by children should be considered as child labor. When children engage in work which does not affect their mental and physical development, health, and does not interfere with their schooling, such work is considered positive and necessary for the development of a child. This can include activities such as “helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. These kinds of activities contribute to children’s development and to the welfare of their families; they provide them with skills and experience, and help to prepare them to be productive members of society during their adult life”. According to the International Labor Organization Africa has the largest number of child labourers; 72.1 million African children are estimated to be in child labour and 31.5 million in hazardous work”. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, children abandon school to work in the mines. These activities are not just a violation to their right and dignity but it is also against the right of human being to work.

International Statistics show that in terms of prevalence, 1 in 5 children in Africa (19.6%) are in child labour, whilst prevalence in other regions is between 3% and 7%: 2.9% in the Arab States (1 in 35 children); 4.1% in Europe and Central Asia (1 in 25); 5.3% in the Americas (1 in 19) and 7.4% in Asia and the Pacific region (1 in 14)”. Africa and Asian countries have higher prevalence of child labor. This can be attributed to poverty, conflict, and natural disasters that have characterized these regions in the past. This explains why incidences of child labor in countries affected by armed conflict is 77 percent higher than the global average; and 50 percent higher for hazardous work. As extreme poverty continues to increase in Africa, Asia and South America, so too is child labor. This is supported by the International Labor Organization analysis that nearly half of the child laborers are found in Africa and in the Asia and Pacific regions. Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest proportion with one in five children working.

According to the Catholic Social Teaching, “The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected – the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative”. Getting children to work in the mines or to serve as child soldiers violates the dignity of work which is to protect workers since the rights of the children are violated.

Arigatou International – End Child Poverty continues to advocate for children’s right at different levels and sees child poverty as a cause of child labor. Child labor does not only steal the future of children, but it takes them out of the family setting affecting their growth into important people for their communities.

This year the International Labor Organization will be celebrating 100 years, this Labor Day 2019 gives us an opportunity to reflect on the dignity of work and how the rights of children are being violated in the process. In the words of Albert Thomas, the first ILO Director “It is the exploitation of childhood which constitutes the evil… most unbearable to the human heart. Serious work in social legislation begins always with the protection of children”. It is rather unfortunate that progress towards ending child poverty has stalled in Africa over the years and many children are still being forced to work rather than go to school. Let us on this day celebrate the dignity of work and together fight against child labor and exploitation.


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