Child Labor: Heartbreak to Hope

Child labor around the world is heartbreaking. Families in desperate situations have to make difficult decisions about their family’s welfare, choosing to put their children to work instead of putting them in school. Or the family becomes indentured, and the children have to help pay off the debt. Or a child is stolen by human traffickers.

This is the state of child labor today, a problem nowhere near being solved but one with hope on the horizon. Estimates put the number of children ages 5 to 17 actively working at 218 million.[1] If you counted all of them as the population of a country, they would create the world’s fifth largest country.[2], [3]

The International Labor Organization defines this state of children in labor with these characteristics:

  • “Is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children.
  • 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.”[4]

Not all work done by children qualifies. It’s important to note that children can still do housework and contribute to the home in reasonable ways. These types of activities are a normal part of childhood and do not deprive children. It is the types of work that result in the above definition that are devastating to these children.

Even worse, there are types of work that are the most heartbreaking to witness involving children: hazardous work and human trafficking. The ILO defines these as:

  • “work which exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse
  • work underground, under water, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces
  • work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or which involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads
  • work in an unhealthy environment which may expose children to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations damaging to their health
  • work under particularly difficult conditions such as work for long hours or during the night or work where the child is unreasonably confined to the premises of the employer.”[5]

When confronted with these realities that millions of children face, we need not ask is child labor illegal. The truth of the hardships is painful to witness.

Sahlma lived this. An earthquake devastated her mountainside village. Everyday life became a constant struggle. Her parents made the decision to leave her and her siblings to find work in a neighboring village. They were in desperate need of income. Sahlma was only nine years old.[6]

Her parents sent home money, but Sahlma struggled to make ends meet for her and her siblings. She made the very grown-up decision to get a job as a porter, carrying goods up and down the side of the steep mountain where they lived. It was dangerous work in many ways, and Sahlma suffered beyond what any nine-year-old girl should have to.

Thankfully, nearby GFA World missionaries with the Child Sponsorship Program heard about her situation. They enrolled her in the program, which provided school fees, school supplies and nutrition. And most importantly, it meant Sahlma could stop working. Through the love and care of the GFA program staff and program benefits, Sahlma started to flourish. Best of all, she and her siblings were reunited with their parents.

Sahlma is one success story of many through GFA’s program for children. GFA missionaries are always trying to help those children and families at the greatest risk. Sahlma was so very brave to try to take care of herself and her siblings, but praise God for the GFA missionaries who helped rescue her from such a dangerous situation.

This is the hope that is available amidst this crisis worldwide. Their heartbreaking situations can be found and resolved with the care and love of those spurred on by the love of Jesus Christ.

You can help rescue a child today for just $35 per month. Whether ongoing poverty or natural disasters are forcing a child into dangerous labor, you can be the one to help provide a way out for that child. The program provides for key needs like clean water, nutritious food and education assistance so the child can complete their studies and grow academically.

Child sponsorship is easy for you and truly life-saving for the child. It would never occur to many to allow a nine-year-old child to carry heavy burdens up and down a steep mountain. And so many parents in developed countries are not forced to leave their small children alone to fend for themselves. A simple monthly gift is the love of Jesus stretching across the miles to help save a child and even their family.

Learn more about how to sponsor a girl education

[1] The Child Labor Coalition. “10 Basic Facts About Child Labor Globally.” https://stopchildlabor.org/the-basic-facts-about-child-labor-globally-from-the-ilo/. July 16, 2018.
[2] Gutheil, Lou. “Child Labor: Not Gone, but Forgotten.” https://www.gfa.org/special-report/child-labor-today/. July 9, 2019.
[3] “Countries in the world by population.” Worldometers. http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/population-by-country/. Accessed Oct. 14, 2022.
[4] “What is child labor?” International Labor Organization. https://www.ilo.org/ipec/facts/lang–en/index.htm. Accessed Oct. 15, 2022.
[5] Ibid.
[6] “A Burden Slides Off Preteen Girl’s Back.” GFA World. https://www.gfa.org/news/articles/a-burden-slides-off-preteen-girls-back-wfr22-01/. January 2022.
* Cover Photo: Cassimiro, Wagner T. “Child Labour.” https://flickr.com/photos/wagnertc/4809536185/. February 5, 2010.