All Work and No Play

63153118_9f67971b1a_o25 years after the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, child labor continues to plague the world.

By John McNeil.

Habtu was in eighth grade when he was taken. “The military training was very tough and brutal,” he said:

“The trainers beat us, stamped on our heads with their shoes, and we were subject to all sorts of punishments. We were half-starved most of the time. We told them our wishes were to study but they did not listen. Once, in 2010, a minor like us tried to escape, and they shot him. We didn’t know whether or not he died.”

Habtu’s story is typical of children growing up in Eritrea, a country of six million on the Horn of Africa that, despite being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, currently boasts the highest rates of child labor in the world.

The convention, which came into force 25 years ago this year, has done much to improve the quality of life for children around the world. It is the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history. UNICEF has said the convention changed the way children were viewed. They became human beings with a distinct set of rights and not merely objects that came with an obligation of care.

In the first 10 years after the treaty there was a rapid increase in the number of organizations and institutions specializing in children’s rights. Many signatory states adopted national action plans that set specific goals and strategies for improving children’s rights in health, education and nutrition. But while awareness of children’s issues certainly improved, the reality of children’s lives in many signatory states did not alter. The convention has failed to translate into solid domestic policy in many areas of the world, leaving children vulnerable.

In January, Somalia finally ratified the convention, but, remarkably, the United States still has not. And despite the fact that the convention has been ratified by all but two nations on Earth, according to UNICEF 150 million children worldwide are used for labor. This includes 13 percent of children aged five to 14 in developing countries, while in the world’s poorest countries, one in four children is engaged in work that is harmful to their health.

Poverty and war are common factors in areas with high incidences of child labor. But the fact that the United States is, along with South Sudan, one of the two nations not to ratify the convention shows that …

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