The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Third World children in all kinds of slavery

Jun 21, 2004

The U.N.'s International Labor Organization published a report showing that 10 million young children are taken to work as live-in domestic servants, that is, slaves in the homes of the well to do. The report counted two million children working in this modern slavery in South Africa, half a million in Brazil, a quarter of a million in Pakistan and another quarter of a million children enslaved in Haiti (with a population of only seven million).

But this report is hardly the first to be written about the traffic in young children. And there is a much larger traffic in poor children of all ages. These modern slave drivers grab a constant stream of youngsters, getting them to leave the countryside for a life they promise will be better in the cities. Instead, the children end up making Nike tennis shoes in Viet Nam by age 14. The ILO report described a labor agency that was shut down in South Africa this past March after the discovery of 21 young black girls crammed into a garage that had only one mattress for them to sleep on.

But the report of such activity is not new. In 2002, an international organization estimated that 250 million children work in the poor countries. Of these, 179 million children worked at tasks so dangerous – whether in the world's factories, fields or brothels – that their lives were in danger.

The world organization concluded its recent report: "The task is extremely difficult. Concerning the world of children working, almost everything remains to be done." And of course, such reports need to be made to tell this truth.

But what these international agencies never mention is the cause of child labor: the world capitalist system. This economic organization of the world bleeds the poor countries dry. If the children of the Third World are slaves, if Africans are dying of AIDS and famine, if the gap between the so-called North and South increases, it is thanks to a system of exploitation born three centuries ago in Europe.

That system killed those most vulnerable at an early age from its very beginnings and continues to do so to this day.