Kids in Crisis FAQs
When crops fail due to drought or other disaster, or work opportunities dry up, children and their parents often face a stark choice: move… or starve.
Driven by the worldwide COVID pandemic, the number of young kids in crisis around the world suffering acute malnutrition (a polite term for starvation) was expected to skyrocket by more than 20 percent in 2020, according to a report by the U.N.1 That’s an additional 10 million starving children worldwide. “Children living on the streets are particularly at risk,” the report says.
In Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, I’ve watched children eat “mud cakes,” sun-dried food made from dirt mixed with salt, water and a little margarine.2 Mud cakes are a symbol of the despair children face in this Caribbean island nation—a sense of hopelessness that continues into adulthood.
“Ask a Haitian, ‘what do you think you’ll be doing in five years?’ and he will laugh,” a Haitian doctor told me. “Our people do not think about tomorrow; we do not plan for the future. We live from day to day. We are a people in survival mode.”
Around the world, humanitarian agencies such as GFA World have increased their efforts to feed the most vulnerable children in crisis and their families as millions of day laborers have been laid off from jobs or unable to work because of economic lockdowns.
The Texas-based agency has distributed food to tens of thousands of families on the edge of starvation in Asia and Africa, filling a critical gap for parents facing the near-impossible task of feeding their children amid total loss of income and with no safety net to fall back on. “The situation in our village is terrible,” one parent told GFA World. “We don’t have any work and we’re unable to provide food for our children.”
Addressing starvation is just one critical step in dealing with concerns surrounding kids in crisis. Other pressing issues involve child labor, child slavery, child marriage and child exploitation, which you can read more about below.
Child labor is a critical problem around the world, but there are certain countries with more child labor than others. It is important to remember that statistics concerning child labor are difficult to gauge.
Child marriage is a substantial issue in many parts of the world. In 2018, a UNICEF report estimated there were 650 million child brides worldwide. That statistic includes girls under the age of 18 who were already married and adult women who married in childhood.
Child slavery today is the worst form of child labor. Child labor does not include household chores or tasks to help the child’s family; it is work that interferes with their school attendance and performance and their physical and emotional development.
The causes of child labor can vary, and views on the matter can contrast significantly based on one’s perspective: a family needing money, compelled to have their children contribute to the family income, will be vastly different than that of the industry using child labor.
The Child Labor Coalition estimates 218 million children, some as young as 5 years old, are in child labor with at least 152 million of those in forced child labor. There are many child labor examples in various workforces, including the fishing, fashion and mining industries.
Child labor in the fashion industry is hidden from the consumer, because it’s buried in the textile and garment supply chain well before someone pulls out a credit card for that new pair of jeans, but that doesn’t negate its harmful effects.
Every industry needs workers in various positions to turn the economic wheel of supply and demand. But what if this economic wheel is made up of millions of tiny hands that should be holding a pencil in a schoolroom instead of a shovel in a mine? This is child exploitation at its essence, and it is insidiously interwoven into our economies.
Education builds confidence in girls and offers them opportunities to learn, grow and hope. If girls can graduate from secondary school, that increases their chances of working jobs with better pay than their parents and even looking for greater opportunities. Girls’ education increases their future income, prevents child marriage and decreases their mortality rate.
A general definition of child labor according to the International Labor Organization is “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.”
For many little girls in the United States and wealthier countries, when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, it was assumed they would receive an education and go on to find an occupation they loved.
One South Asian country is home to over a sixth of the world’s population and has seen significant economic achievements in the last two decades, yet challenges still remain as economic successes in this country “have not resulted in improved quality of life for everyone everywhere, especially women and children,” says UNICEF.
“What is child labor?” is not a question that is asked too often. You may not have thought it was something that still existed. Afterall, aren’t there laws in place to prevent that? In the wake of the Industrial Revolution of the early 20th Century, the Progressive Movement in the United States sought reform in many areas, including child labor. Our school history books taught us that children worked in dangerous places, made next to nothing and were often injured.
With the global problem of poverty continuing to perpetuate, it is vital to do everything possible to provide hope for children. In the United States alone, about 11 million children are considered poor. That is one in seven kids who make up one-third of all people living in poverty in the country.
1 Bachelet, Michelle. “Annual general meeting of the consortium for street children.” United Nations Human Rights. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26480&LangID=E. November 3, 2020.
2 Channi-Tiwary, Harnoor. “Mud Cake – A Delicacy Made With Mud in Poverty-Stricken Haiti.” NDTV Food. https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/mud-cake-a-delicacy-made-with-mud-in-poverty-stricken-haiti-1437242. July 30, 2016.