Personal journal of a Christian woman
Shocking truths about the Coffee/Cocoa industry
Published on January 8, 2004 By wvjcgirl In Current Events

Causal Analysis: Causes of Child Labor

“Oh, No! Not the Chocolate, Too!”

Put down that chocolate! Do you know who picked those cocoa beans? It may have been a hungry little boy in Africa, according to a recent report released by the international human rights organization known as Global Exchange. The report details stories of young children escaping the Ivory Coast cocoa plantations, which grow 40 percent of the world’s cocoa, due to little food or pay and savage beatings. According to the International Labor Organization, over 250 million children worldwide between five and fourteen years of age are actively working in the labor force! Why the startling figures? It appears that the cause of child labor is poverty, lack of educational opportunity, and tradition.

Recent studies suggest that child labor is prevalent in underdeveloped nations because third world poverty forces children to work to help sustain their family’s survival. An example of this is Africa and Asia, which combined account for over ninety percent of total child employment, according to This is also especially true in the rural areas of the third world nations, where it is difficult to monitor and keep track of such activities. These children are often poorly paid, yet account for a substantial portion of the family’s income. The desperate situation of many families makes these children easy targets for exploitation. In addition, the employers of the children are often in poverty themselves, as in the case of the crisis ridden coffee industry. According to Global Exchange, coffee prices are at an all time low of fifty cents a pound causing the plantation owners to struggle in poverty as well. Yet, the major coffee companies-such as Starbuck’s- continue to sell to consumers at the same high prices and pocket the difference. Consequently, this cycle perpetuates the demand for cheap labor and as a result, the child labor industry is in even higher demand.

In addition, educational opportunities are not always available in countries where child labor is so prevalent. Schools are often not an option for children in poverty due to the high financial costs of entrance fees, books, uniforms, supplies and transportation. Many children have to work in order to earn the money they need to go to school. The quality of education in these regions is another reason that many students do not attend school, as lack of adequate facilities and apathetic teachers cause many children to turn to the work force as a way into which they can learn a skill or a trade for their future. A report by Human Rights Watch in 1996 estimated that in India there were between 82 and 115 million children not in school! As a result, they are often “bonded” to business owners, such as the Pakistani carpet industry, which is almost entirely made by child-bonded servants.

Family expectations and traditions probably play a major role in child labor as well. Africa shows the highest rate of child labor according to Unicef’s 1997 State of the World Report, as one out of every three children are engaged in child labor activities. A recent article written by Michee Boko of the Interpress News Service sheds light on the traditional thinking that spurs children to want to work. An interview with an official on the border of Benin revealed that what interests many African children and their families in child labor is the scant money they are going to bring home at the end of the season, and the honor they will receive from leaving the family to earn a wage. He asserts that a young person who has worked outside the family is considered to be more heroic, is more likely to be a catch to the girls, and more deserving of the community's designation of greater responsibilities than the one who has not worked for their family. It is these concepts and traditions on honor that continue the child labor.

In conclusion, it appears that the current economic and social structures that presently enable poverty in third world nations are the main causes of the persistence of child labor. Poverty that is so extreme that starvation is the only other option to sending a child to work causes otherwise loving and caring parents to take desperate steps to secure survival. Knowing the causes of this issue can help concerned citizens raise their voices in a compassionate solution to ending centuries of oppression against the smallest ones of our global family-our children. So, the next time that you purchase a chocolate bar or a pound of coffee, do a little research first, as it appears that our purchases can save or take the lives of children across the globe.

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