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Student activist tries to end child labour

By Katie Norman
I.J. Samson Junior High
St. John's, Newfoundland

Imagine that you are three years old. Your parents are drowning in debt, their only chance of survival is to sell you to a carpet factory. There, you will work for three cents a day for twenty hours a day. When your work is over, you can give your money to your owner to help with your debt or you can use the money to buy yourself some rice to eat.

To many children, this is a fact of life.

Alicia Lauersen, president of the Fort McMurray chapter of Free the Children, recently visited I.J. Samson Junior High in St. John's, Newfoundland and talked to the students about child labor. The truth shocked us all.

Lauersen became involved in protesting child labor and promoting the rights of children two years ago, when she was only twelve. She found out about this problem when her chaperone Lyn Gorman attended a conference with Craig Kielburger, a teenager who led the fight against child labour.

Craig Kielburger

Gorman was so moved by his words and insight into this horrible problem, that she took a video back to her school. She felt that there was a need to have more children follow in Craig's footsteps so she showed all the students at her school from Grades 5 to 8. Because the students showed such interest in the issue, Gorman held a mini-conference a few days later. Lauersen asked if she could somehow help.

That was how it all started and it has snowballed since then. A group of students in Fort McMurray, Alberta have helped to get a by-law passed, making it illegal to sell soccer balls and fireworks in their town that have been made by children.

This group of kids have been recognized all over the world. They have sent letters to Nike trying to get them to stop using child labor. Their efforts helped and Nike signed an agreement to stop using child labor. They have also sent letters to help change the conditions for children in Bangladesh.

Lauersen told the students at I. J. Samson that children work as carpet makers, and clothing makers. They not only produce goods, but sometimes they are soldiers in wars. They do this because it is cheaper to have children on the battle ground than adults.

Child labor is a vicious cycle, a curse that passes from generation to generation. Many children work for the same companies as their grandparents and they have to continue to pay off the family debt to the company. When children begin to work in a factory, they often are already in debt and must work to pay it off. If a product is not perfect, the debt increases and so do the generations of that family who will have to be child laborers. The children are often beaten or blinded or branded by hot iron stamps to show ownership to that company.

Iqbal Masih
Our only information of child labor comes from insiders, people willing to risk their lives to let the world know about this problem. One child, Iqbal Masih, escaped from a factory and told his story to the world. He spoke about his life as a child laborer, more like a child slave. He delivered an emotional speech to the members of the United Nations. A little while later, he was shot, and killed, near his home in Pakistan. No one knows who killed him, but people suspect the carpet Mafia.


Child labor exists all over the world, not just in Asia. In countries like India, as many as five million children are child laborers. The country that shocked me was the United States of America, with 300,000 children working as child laborers.

Many people think they don't buy products of child labor. But companies such as Mattel, Fisher Price, Nike, Adidas, Reebok and clothes from the GAP, are all sub-contracted to factories that may use child labor. It is not necessarily all the products; it depends on what factory it came from.

Child labor makes poor countries remain poor. The children and future leaders of the country are forced to work in factories. This doesn't allow the children enough time or money to attend school, so when they all grow up they are another population of uneducated adults to be taken advantage of by the rich. In a system like this, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Alicia Lauersen gave us insight into all these problems. She let us know that the only way we can change this is to take matters into our hands. She and her group have. Whether they're writing letters to Ralph Klein to get him to sign the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child or raising money for Free the Children, they are doing their part, and you can do something about it too.

For more information about child labour, visit UNICEF's site for a list of related link under the Child Labour and Children at Work sections.


In Nepal, children and women carry bricks on their heads. They earn $0.25 for every 100 trips. UNICEF/93-1257/ Noorani


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