Protection from child labor and ensuring the rights of children are essential for any nation to thrive. According to UNICEF in 2020, nearly 1 in 10 children, roughly 152 million, are in some form of child labor. At least half of this population work in extremely dangerous conditions, where they are in danger not only of injury and death but also detrimental psychological effects that could last a lifetime. At least 30 million of these children live outside the country they were born in, making them much more vulnerable to being victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Child labor deprives children of their right to go to school and reinforces intergenerational cycles of poverty. India, unfortunately, is no stranger to this ugly truth. Due to extreme poverty, desperate families typically borrow funds from a lender, sometimes sums as low as $35, and are forced to hand over their children as surety until the funds can be repaid. Too often, this money can never be repaid; the child is then sold and resold to different masters.
In our lesson “Child Labor,” students examine the conditions and causes of child labor in South Asia (rug-making industry), Ecuador (banana industry), and the U.S. (migrant farm workers). The lesson begins with the powerful poem “Questions From a Worker Who Reads,” making the lesson applicable in both literature and history classes, with adaptations for grades 6, 7, and 8, as well as gifted and talented learners, second-language learners, and students with disabilities. After STTP human rights defender Kailash Satyarthi is introduced, students reflect on complex human rights contexts that allow child labor to endure, even when deemed illegal by multiple countries. Finally, students learn about conditions for fair trade that help both workers and the environment, before taking action for these causes in their own communities.
Kailash Satyarthi was born in India in 1954. When he started school, he was deeply affected by the fact that many children were unable to be educated because their families couldn’t afford it. At age 11, he organized a soccer club and used the membership dues to pay the tuition of disadvantaged children. He also asked for parents to donate their children’s used books so that he could give them to students in need for the next school year.
As an adult, Satyarthi earned advanced degrees in engineering and worked as a teacher. However, by 1980, he left his lucrative career and founded Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) to create an India in which children receive free education and are no longer exploited. BBA helped the government perform raids on shops using child labor and directly extricated children themselves. By 2015, the organization had rescued over 86,000 children from slavery and trafficking.
Satyarthi has devoted his life to shining a light on exploitation and insisting on education.
In 2014, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Malala Yousafzai “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”
Because all the activities involve independent or group research that can be done online, this
lesson plan fits into either virtual or in-person classrooms, with opportunities for discussion and collaboration on Zoom or with classmates. Educators should also feel free to incorporate clips hearing directly from Kailash Satyarthi in this virtual field trip video in partnership with Discovery Education and Speak Truth to Power.