Child Labour and its Dismal Psychological Implications
Psychological effects of child labour are as severe as its physical ones but unfortunately, they received attention only at the end of the twentieth century.
Depression, hopelessness, shame, guilt, loss of confidence and anxiety are some of the horrible emotional effects of child labour, leading to a high risk of mental illness and antisocial behavior. To mitigate the psychological effects of child labour, proper awareness and education in societies are the utmost requirement.
Child labour is a very commonplace problem which has moved from a matter of regional and national anxiety to international discussion and possibly needs global influence and policy imposition. In order to overcome this enormous problem of our times, one must fully understand the factors which result in child labor, its consequences, and how to prevent it without harming affected children.
The problem of child labour significantly depends on culture and geographical location e.g. the younger generations of third-world countries are the main victims. According to UNICEF statistics, about one-third of the child population in developing countries do not even complete four years of education, culminating in circumstances of child labor (UNICEF, 2008).
An international labour organization (ILO) approximation shows that approximately 180 million children in developing countries are completely embroiled in child labour, and in Pakistan specifically, ILO’s IPECS (International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour, 2012) showed last year that 3.8 million children were laboring out of 40 million in the age group of 5-14 years.
One basic reason that pushes children to work is the low socio-economic condition of their family. Many times, their work ends up unpaid and compensated for only by their boarding and lodging. Child labour creates many physical hazards to child health but the most devastating effect is in fact psychological.
Children who become involved in different labor-related works have no opportunity to develop their natural psycho-social health; about 40% of child labourers are affected by abnormal psychological growth (Jordan, 2012).
Both the parents and children are often not aware of the scale of hazards to which these children are exposed. In some cases, the parents do know but can nnot find another alternative to create a source of income. To mitigate child labour, efforts must be made to create an environment which makes it easier for every child to go to school and prevents their parents from pulling out them before they can finish their basic education.
During the 19th century, the term “child labour” was introduced in Britain with the implication that the children should not be dragged to work (International Labour Organization). The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines child labour as an activity other than study or play carried out by a person, paid or unpaid, under the age of fifteen.
In 1989, the United Nation (UN) set the full range of children’s rights at the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as the two ILO conventions, the Minimum Age Convention (No. 138, 1973) and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No.182, 1999). These rights were to protect children from exploitation and from any sort of work which would be harmful to their health (physical, mental, moral, spiritual or social).
The criteria set by ILO as ‘hazardous work’ was, ‘work that exposes children to physical harm, sexual exploitation, and psychological effects.’
As previously stated, the main reason that pushes children to work is the poor economic condition of their families. In most cases, a child’s family cannot even afford basic food and housing, let alone basic education for children. There are numerous reasons behind those families’ poverty, including national, traditional, historical and cultural.
Other reasons which may lead children to work include family breakdown (e.g. divorce) or a stigmatized attitude towards girls e.g. girls are discouraged from studying at school and propelled into adulthood at a much younger age than boys, either by work or an early wedding.
The employers are interested in hiring children because they are cheap and obedient. Inadequate laws and lack of education provide further opportunities to society to drag children into work.
In general, studies show that children working in factories and mines operate machinery, use chemicals, and are exposed to high or very cold temperatures, which ultimately endangers their lives. Also, children are used to direct life-threatening situational works such as sex work, as soldiers in wars, drugs and smuggling.
One particular example from the United State of America is that the victims of occupational accidents are aged 15-17 twice as often as they are adults (UNICEF, 2011). The lack of personal experience and emotional and physical maturity puts their lives in dangers.
Until 1998, most national and international studies focused their attention on the physical effects of child labour. However, children are more prone to psychological and social risks as compared to physical (reported by Leng and Mayers in 1998). Due to a lack of physical and mental maturity children are always appointed to the lowest grades and levels of their work.
Another study comparing psychological and behavioral problems between the working and non-working children shows that children’s development in the working case is almost seized. The study, conducted by Matalqa in 2004 in the streets of Jordan, showed that working children have lower levels of adaptive skill, lesser physical health and demonstrate unwanted social behaviors.
Child labourers using obscene words, exhibiting high emotions with low creativity and relying on excess use of cigarettes and alcohol was also one of the conclusions reported by Dmour in 2006. Child trafficking, which comes under the worst forms of child labour, has lasting psychological effects on the victims.
Children separated from their families, homes and communities continuously encounter sexual abuse and emotional trauma. Depression, hopelessness, shame, guilt, nightmares, loss of confidence, low self-esteem and anxiety are the appalling consequences faced by these trafficking children.
These pessimistic indications influence their senses and put them in a cycle of self-blame. Psychological abuse tremendously affects self-concept, personal goals, and relationships with others and seriously damages emotional well-being. Sexually-abused children are more likely to experience offensive emotional outcomes such as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide.
Children exposed to these numerous experiences of victimization are at high risk of mental illness. Adults who experience such forms of child labour are likely to resort to violence and display antisocial behavior (Gordon Betcherman, Jean Fares,Amy Luinstra, and Robert Prouty, July, 2004).
To mitigate child labour, a coordinated set of multiple actions with well-meaning intentions is of the utmost importance. For example, to address the root causes of child labour, we must prevent children from dropping out of school and discourage parents from putting their children in the labor market.
It is necessary to construct appropriate and concise laws and policies which not only ensure child protection but are also understood by the parents in such a way so as to compel them to obey those laws.
In conclusion, child labour is a social and moral problem which damages society constantly. To understand and mitigate this problem, one should first fully understand the reasons which push children into the labor market, then the outcome of child labour and its impact on societies, and the need to explore appropriate approaches to bringing back children from labour work to schools.
Around the world, different reasons for child labour have been pointed out but the main reason stands as poverty. Child labour has numerous consequences but the psychological impact is the most long-term problem and needs attention on an emergency basis, especially in third-world countries where people lack awareness of it.
Existing studies about the psychological effect of child labour report that victims of child labour face depression, lack of trust, hopelessness, low levels of confidence, shame and guilt, low self-esteem and anxiety, and may grow up to be adults who also pose certain risks to society. For a better future and protective society, several coordinated actions must be taken to mitigate child labour.
Governments as well as responsible organizations around the world must provide an environment which makes it easier for poor people to keep their children in school (at least until primary education) and create awareness in societies about child labour and its outcomes.
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