Child labour. Gangs and violence. Child soldiers. These are just a handful of the issues affecting our boys. Living in poverty makes children even more vulnerable to dangerous and exploitative situations. No boy deserves to experience these things.

Trigger warning: this article contains content which may be confronting or distressing to some readers.

Child labour

Child labour is defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. Child labour encompasses children between the ages of five and 17.

Poverty is both a cause and an effect of child labour. Working from a young age can damage a child’s mental and physical health, their security and their chance at gaining an education—which in turn diminishes their chance of escaping poverty.

There are three main sectors of child labour:

  • The agriculture sector: agriculture, hunting, forestry, and fishing
  • The industry sector: mining and quarrying, manufacturing, construction, and public utilities.
  • The services sector: wholesale and retail trade, restaurants and hotels, transport, storage, and communications; finance, insurance, real estate, and business services; and community as well as social and personal services.

The use of children in domestic service is also a large issue, with an estimated 15.5 million children working in homes worldwide.

Who is affected?

There are an estimated 168 million children worldwide trapped in child labour; 100 million of them are boys. Worldwide, 60 per cent of working children are in agriculture on farms and plantations, often working from sunrise to sunset with dangerous pesticides and chemicals. In its most extreme forms, child labour involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and left to fend for themselves—often at a very young age.

What progress has been made?

There has been a steady decline in child labour, however progress is still slow. At current rates, it is estimated that more than 100 million children will still be trapped in child labour by 2020.

How does Compassion respond?

Compassion’s holistic child development model helps to mitigate the risk of child labour. Compassion’s intervention through our Child Sponsorship Program and Highly Vulnerable Children’s fund can be used as a preventative measure as each child is known, loved and protected. Compassion often works with families to teach them the value of educating their child. By building relationships with families, our staff help make a way for their child to go to school rather than work by providing food supplies or vocational training for parents.

We’ve shared stories on this issue before here and here.


Gangs and Violence

Youth violence is a global public health problem according to the World Health Organisation. Worldwide, it is estimated that some 200,000 homicides occur among youth from 10 to 29 years of age each year. Homicide is the fourth leading cause of death in this age group and 83 per cent of these homicides involve male victims.

In seven countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, homicide is the leading cause of death among adolescent boys. Compassion works in four of them: El Salvador, Brazil, Guatemala and Colombia.

In 2013, nearly one in every three murders that occurred globally took place in the streets of Latin America – where just 8 per cent of the world's people live. With the highest rate of criminal violence in the world, the chief of research at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Angela Me believes it is mainly due to organised crimes and gangs.

Youth homicide and the injuries that occur not only contribute greatly to the global burden of premature death, injury and disability, but also have a serious, often lifelong, impact on a person's psychological and social functioning. This can affect victims' families, friends and communities.

Who is affected?

Gang violence weighs heavily on the lives of adolescents throughout the world, with boys more likely to be involved in gangs than girls. Homicide rates among boys are higher than those among girls in every region.

Children join gangs for a variety of reasons. Community risk factors can include poverty, social exclusion, lack of jobs and educational opportunities, residential areas with high crime rates and the availability of firearms and/or drugs. In the absence of better alternatives and in extreme conditions of exclusion, joining a gang can be seen as a way of life that will provide security, purpose and a sense of belonging.

What progress has been made?

Due to the nature of gang violence, monitoring progress in this area is difficult.

How does Compassion respond?

Through education and activities used to actively engage children, our Child Sponsorship Program can help protect children and adolescents from entering gangs by keeping the children off the streets and out of vulnerable situations. Each child is known, loved and protected by local Compassion staff. Local staff in countries around the world come up with unique programs and ideas to engage and protect children. For example, in Fortaleza, Brazil, a surfing program has become a popular after-school activity for teenage boys.


Child Soldiers

‘Child solider’ refers to a child below 18 years of age who has been recruited or used by an armed force in any capacity, including as fighters, cooks, porters, spies or for sexual purposes.

Children almost inevitably become involved when armed conflict exists. Those affected typically come from homes stricken by poverty and lacking options. They’re deceived, indoctrinated or forced to train and work within an armed force in traumatic roles such as guards, sexual slaves and suicide bombers. Some feel they have no other option, voluntarily becoming involved because their families are desperate for the income it would provide, or because they long for the sense of belonging it appears to offer.

Who is affected?

Though exact numbers are difficult to discern, the UN estimates that some 300,000 children are involved in more than 30 conflicts worldwide today. Regardless of how children are recruited and of their roles, child soldiers are victims, whose participation in conflict bears serious implications for their physical and emotional wellbeing. They are commonly subject to abuse and most of them witness death and sexual violence. Many are forced to perpetrate these atrocities and some suffer serious long-term psychological consequences. The reintegration of these children into civilian life is a complex process.

What progress has been made?

Although the issue of child soldiers is far from resolved, many countries are beginning to take widespread action, seeing thousands of children freed from armed conflict.

How does Compassion respond?

Compassion’s holistic child development model mitigates the risk of a child becoming involved in an armed conflict. Our Child Sponsorship Program can be a preventative measure against the issue of child soldiers, as each child is known to centre staff, has their wellbeing monitored and is assisted to complete primary school, which provides them with more options.

SOURCES: UN, Amnesty

Compassion works with local churches to identify children who are on the brink of unacceptable situations. Help us empower the local church to assist these children through giving to the Highly Vulnerable Children Critical Need.

We understand that these issues can affect all children, but note that in many countries boys are disproportionately affected by these issues. You can read about three issues affecting girls here.

Words by Monique Wallace

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