Children, Work And Guns


By Antonia Mandry

The words “Child Labour” conjure up images of Oliver Twist forced by heartless older generations from workhouse to poorhouse and from thence to a life of crime merely in order to survive.

But Child Labouris not situated solely in the 19th century nor merely in the factories of the Industrial Revolution. It is not only of the past, or of the factory; neither is it a fate suffered by the few. The United Nations Children’s Fund issued a report on the “State of the World’s Children” in 1997, a scant 10 years ago, which stated “Over 250 million children around the world- in countries rich and poor – work and many of them are at risk from hazardous and exploitative labour. Denied education and trapped in cycles of poverty, their most basic rights, their health and even their lives are in jeopardy.[1]

250 million children in a worldwide child population of 1.78 billion[2]means that 14% of the world’s children are engaged in child labour. 14% of theworld’s children are being “denied education and [are] trapped” with “lives are in jeopardy.[3]

On September 2,1990, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified and came into force. As of today, there are 193 parties to the convention, with the notable exception of the United States[4]. 17 years later, the landscape of child labour has transformed in a horrifying way, showing that either the Convention has accomplished nothing or that it has only accomplished better reporting of the subject. Children are not only wasting their lives in the drudgery of Bangladeshi sweat shops, but also risking their lives everywhere from the battlefields of Uganda to the female Iraqi-filled brothels of Syria.

Unrest in Iraq is leading to massive unemployment, and to survive some children such as Seif Abdul-Rafiz[5]are starting to work for the insurgents and helping them to make bombs. They get paid a small fee to do these things and instead of learning Arabic scriptor poetry, they have left school and are learning the mechanics of bomb-making. In Uganda, young girls were kidnapped from their families to “boost numbers in armed groups”[6]and often forced to kill other children to prove themselves[7].

Escaping the war zone is no proof of immunity to the horrors of the new child labour. JoshuaE.S. Phillips reported in his article[8]that many Iraqi refugees fair little better than their war-disrupted co-nationalists. Indeed, while bombs are not falling on their houses, Iraqi refugee children such as 15-year-old Farah[9]are forced into prostitution in Damascene brothels due to the destitiution of their families. The 700,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria and Syria’s own precarious economic situation make it almost impossible to find work.

“They were ruined, when they were required to send labouring children to school,” writes Charles Dickens in Hard Times, his rant against Child Labour in 19th-century London. The first thing to be lost to war and financial ruin is education, the second thing to be lost is childhood. Our youth are prostitutes and soldiers, instead of children.


“IRAQ: Poverty drives children to work for armed groups”,

Unveiling Iraq’s Teenage Prostitutes,

UNHCR Critical Issues – Child Labor ;Action for the Rights of Children.

Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (2000) Girls With Guns: An Agenda On Child Soldiers

For “Beijing Plus Five”.


[2]”Child” is defined as anyone under 15 years of age.

[3] Ibid.

[4] A trend that the United States seems to follow often, as it has also signed but not ratified the Treaty for the Rights of Women.

[5] “IRAQ: Povertydrives children to work for armed groups”,

[6] UNHCR Critical Issues – Child Labor ; Action for theRights of Children.

[7] Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (2000) Girls With Guns: An Agenda On Child Soldiers For “Beijing Plus Five”.

[8] Unveiling Iraq’s Teenage Prostitutes,

[9] Ibid.