Some kids forced to work, drop out of school


A 10-year-old girl prepares clay at a brick factory in Pakistan, a country in South Asia, where she earns $2 a day. (Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press)
September 27, 2013

As the U.S. secretary of labor, my job is to make sure that workers are treated fairly, stay safe on the job and get paid what they’re owed. If they aren’t, workers can complain to my department.

My own kids have started to tease me whenever I ask for help around the house. They’ve threatened to “call the Labor Department” on me. That’s going to get old pretty fast.

On Monday my department is putting out a book called “2012 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.” It identifies places where children work at jobs that only adults should do, and it discusses ways governments and organizations around the world can help stop that from happening. I’m looking forward to taking it home so I can talk to my kids about the difference between their chores and the hard labor some children face.

Let me tell you, there’s a huge difference.

Some of the jobs these kids do are especially dangerous. It’s not taking out the garbage or doing the dishes. They work in jobs such as mining, squeezing their little bodies into small spaces underground. Working keeps them out of school, which prevents them from learning and getting good jobs as adults. Some kids are severely mistreated.

We think there are about 168 million children as young as 5 working worldwide, and 6 million of them are in forced labor. That means they have no choice. They can’t go home when they want, and they face harsh punishments if they don’t do what they’re told.

I tell people that my job is to lead a “Department of Opportunity.” When we help take kids out of fields and factories and put them into classrooms, we give them the opportunity to lead full, successful, healthy lives.

After all the groaning, my kids and I have fun working around the house together. We get to talk about what’s on our minds, and it brings us a little closer.

I want every family to have that chance. And I want every kid around the world to have the opportunity to get an education and go as far as their dreams will take them.

Thomas Perez, labor secretary

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