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CLICK TO ENLARGE: Child workers around the world




Do you know where the clothes that you wear were made?





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Annie says ...


Child Labour Today

It is now the 21st century, over 200 years since cotton mills started spinning cotton and working children were part of the process from field to mill. Do you think that children still work in the cotton industry today?

Child labour is still common in some parts of the world. Child labour today means children under 18 years of age who are forced to work, instead of getting a full time education. Sadly, to this day, children as young as 5 still go out to work for up to 20 hours a day for very little or no money. This includes children from developing countries and industrialised ones. Many of these children work because they have no choice. 

Children can still be found working in many dangerous places like factories, mines, quarries, on the land and other worse industries. Other children are forced to do many unskilled, repetitive jobs such as making boxes, polishing shoes, cleaning or helping in a family business to earn their keep or help to feed their family. Many can be found selling many things on the streets or hidden away in houses as servants. Almost 70% of all child workers work on the land, fishing or farming, some of them in terrible conditions. This includes cotton fields. In many poorer countries, agriculture is a very important part of the economy. There are around 132 million children under 15 years of age working the land around the world!

Most child workers can be found in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America. But child labour today is not restricted to developing countries. There are working children found in developed industrialised countries like Turkey and the Ukraine. Do you know where these regions and countries are?  Have a look on a map.


The cotton industry is still big business around the world. It is the single best-selling fibre in the world. Cotton is still one of our most adaptable and widely used fibres to make clothes, linen, tarpaulins and oils. What do you know about cotton?

Cotton is still grown in areas with long, hot, dry summers with plenty of sunshine, and low humidity. The main producers are America, China, India, Egypt, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Brazil and Turkey. Egyptian cotton is still considered to be one of the most high quality cottons, just as it was 200 years ago! America and Britain are Egypt's biggest customers.

Cotton growing is still very labour intensive (needs alot of people rather than machines in many places) and so there is still a demand for cheap labour on cotton plantations. Unlike 200 years ago, alot of cotton today is genetically modified. Also, many dangerous pesticides are used to ensure that crops aren't ruined and the high demand can be met.

Courtesy of ILO & UNICEF [] []
Children are still involved in every part of the cotton journey in different parts of the world, as they were 200 years ago. The two main areas that children can still be found working are in cotton growing or picking and in manufacturing (making items from cotton).


Some children start working on large commercial farms or family farms growing crops to sell around the world when they are as young as 5 years old. Some children are sent away from their families to work on farms, while some are needed to work on a family farm at really busy times like harvest time. This is called seasonal work. In Kazakhstan, for example, it has been reported that children work in cotton and tobacco fields and factories for up to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week during the harvest period. Without the child workers the landowners wouldn't manage to harvest all of their crop. Families renting the land could be evicted if they don't meet the high quota that the landowners demand.

Children from 5 to 17 still do all types of work on the land. It is hard physical labour:
Children do weeding, worm collection and snapping; they also gather cotton bushes for their master and for themselves." (Quote from an Agricultural worker, UKO)

Children can still be found working looms and sewing machines to produce fabric, carpets and clothing in many developing countries like India. Many work in terrible places which are cramped, dirty and badly lit. These places have been called sweatshops.

Children are employed at the expense of going to school. In Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, for example, it has been reported that rural schools are closed during the cotton harvest. Seasonal child workers are in the fields from April to November, so they are at risk of not attending school for many months. Many children do not have the opportunity to go to school at all. Education is not free in some countries and their families do not have the money to send them to school and would prefer that they worked - just like 200 years ago in Britain!

Many dangers that existed 200 years ago haven't changed, even though we have many more laws nowadays to protect us. However, in many countries around the world, health and safety laws, if they exist, are just ignored. Many children in the cotton fields are exposed to what is termed hazardous child labour, which means that they could be killed, injured or made ill as a result of their work. Did you know that farming is one of the most dangerous sectors to work in?

We think of cotton as a natural product. This isn't so  for all cotton. On some large plantations, cotton plants are regularly sprayed with chemicals called pesticides and herbicides to control weeds and pests. These chemicals have a terrible effect on workers who have to spray the fields. Many of these are children.

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Can you imagine being paid less than £1 for such hard work?
Child cotton workers work long hours for very little money, whether in the field or a workshop. Their families rely on them and they can contribute up to a quarter of their family's income! Wages are paid in the field based on the amount of cotton that a person harvests and its usually 10% of the value of the cotton. It has been reported that young people work 10-12 hours shifts in 40 degree heat for less than £1 per day. This means that these children work over 70 hours a week!

Some are bonded workers. This means that they are sold by their family to work in order to repay a debt or money borrowed.







 Child workers in Nepal





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 The cotton plant

 Courtesy of UNICEF []

  Boys ploughing in Sierra Leone 

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Courtesy of International Labour Organization [] 

 Courtesy of International Labour Organization [] 

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Cotton worker spraying pesticide onto a crop [Source Unknown] 
Leafworm   Leafworm  
Courtesy of International Labour Organization []
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 1 pound coin



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