They toil in the heat on plantations, pound stones in dusty mines and are abused as domestic slaves. There are millions of children worldwide who are exploited economically and emotionally in the worst way. These children have the right to grow up with dignity and safety. They have the right to childhood. In order for them to be able to exercise this right, more is needed than simply outlawing child labour. Education and family strengthening projects are an important approach to combating child labour, the origin of which usually lies in people's poverty: abject, merciless poverty.
Children whose parents are too poor to feed them have to contribute to their livelihoods. Children whose families have already been torn apart by poverty are left to fend for themselves. They often have no choice but to be exploited. Otherwise they would not be able to survive.
Viewed the other way round, however, child labour is also a cause of poverty. If children do not go to school and do not receive an education, they will hardly be able to feed themselves and a family sufficiently in the long term. Their chances are disproportionately worse than those of educated children and young people. This vicious circle must be broken.
This is where our work comes in. For more than 60 years, SOS Children's Villages has been fighting poverty and helping children in need. In doing so, the aid organisation relies, among other things, on educational opportunities to prevent poverty and child labour. Parentless and abandoned children receive schooling and vocational training in the facilities affiliated to the SOS villages. Poor families, who often live in slums or run-down suburban settlements in large cities, are supported by SOS Family Aid. Prevention is the keyword here. Parents and children are supported before the family can break apart.
An example from the city of Chittagong in Bangladesh shows how SOS Family Aid works. The staff of the SOS Social Centre there support socially and economically disadvantaged families from the surrounding area through their work. Currently, 550 children from more than 380 families are cared for within the framework of the programme. Women, for example, have the opportunity to participate in handicraft and tailoring courses at the social centre in order to finance the family's upkeep. Mothers can bring their children to the centre's day care centre to get an education, look for work or pursue an occupation. The centre also offers career counselling and micro-credits for business start-ups. Educating children about their rights is also a task of the centre. The goal here is always to help people help themselves. The aim is to create the possibility for the family to live independently one day.
Unfortunately, however, not all families who send their children to work out of necessity can be reached through such projects. As long as there is extreme poverty in many countries, there will also be child labour. Families do not send their children to work out of heartlessness, but because they see no other way to survive.
It goes without saying that exploitative child labour cannot be tolerated. But if children have to work to ensure their survival, then the principles of Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child must also be followed. The physical and mental integrity as well as the right to education of children must be guaranteed. Otherwise, the vicious circle of poverty and child labour cannot be broken.