In May 1996, TV talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford went on national TV to issue a tearful denial that her Wal-Mart line of clothing was produced by child labor in Honduras. In June, reports surfaced that Michael Jordan's line of Nike sneakers were being made by children in Indonesia working for 19 cents an hour.
Because of the ties to big name celebrities such as Gifford and Jordan, the child labor issue briefly won major headlines in magazines and newspapers across the country. But while the publicity has faded, the problem has not.
The problem of child labor is, in fact, nothing new. Early in this century, the extensive use of child labor was a fact of life here in the United States as Americans continued to work through the growing pains of converting from an agricultural to an industrial economy. Although effectively eliminated from the U.S. today, the exploitation of children as workers exists as a major problem in many parts of the world. Recently revised estimates by human rights experts are that as many as 400 million children under the age of 15 are performing forced labor either part or full-time. Because these children are paid little and do not receive an education, they have little chance of breaking the cycle of poverty in which they are caught.
The child labor problem is predominantly confined to under-developed countries. The economic reality is that children are typically paid one-half to one-third what is paid to adults doing comparable work. In addition to low pay, the children are often exposed to significant health hazards and subjected to extreme physical, verbal and even sexual abuse. While many children work to add to their family's income, others are literally sold into bondage by their parents in return for cash or some form of credit.
Last updated: November 1996
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