It is a problem that can be heard around the world — workers receive very little pay in part because wholesalers and retailers reap most of the profits, and children are forced to go to work with little or no pay to help support their families.

In some cases, the “lucky” ones work on plantations after school, but others are forced to drop out of school altogether to help put food on the table.

World Day Against Child Labor is June 12, and according to the International Labor Organization, there are 152 million child laborers, of which 48% are 5-11 years old. Nearly half are in hazardous work that directly endangers their health, safety and moral development.

While child exploitation occurs readily around the world in agriculture, sexual exploitation of our children occurs not only globally but right here in our neighborhoods.

Before breakfast is over, have we played a part in child exploitation by the coffee we drink or the bananas we eat? According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), agriculture is where the worst and most common forms of child labor are found. Coffee plantations employ children to pick beans in Colombia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Mexico, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Panama, El Salvador, Guinea and the Ivory Coast. Add some sugar to your coffee and consider that ILO found thousands of children working in sugarcane production in the Philippines, some as young as seven years old.

As you reach for that banana, think about children, some as young as eight, working 12-hour days, wielding sharp tools, pulling loads of bananas and lacking adequate access to drinking water and bathrooms, according to the Food Empowerment Project. Countries such as Ecuador, the Philippines, Belize, Brazil and Nicaragua are where child labor can be found on banana plantations, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor. Children are regularly exposed to agrochemicals and experience a long list of negative reactions “including headaches, fever, dizziness, red eyes, stomach aches, nausea, vomiting and more.”

The existence of child labor on plantations is a product of simple math. Workers receive so little in part because the wholesalers and retailers abroad reap most of the profits, particularly with the recent consolidation of huge retail outlets like Wal-Mart, Costco and Carrefour according to a New York Times article.

Each 43-pound box of bananas purchased in Ecuador by exporters for $2 or $3 goes for $25 in the United States or Europe. The Ecuadorean grower makes 12 cents on the dollar, according to the National Association of Banana Growers.

The good news is that there are 134 million fewer children in employment in 2016 than 2000. Most child labor takes place within the family and paid employment makes up 27 percent.

However, one million children are in forced labor for sexual exploitation around the world.

In the United States, in 2018, more than 23,500 runaways were reported to NCMEC and one in seven were likely victims of child sex trafficking, according to the National Center for Missing Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Along with runaways, children engaging in social media and many online games become especially vulnerable to traffickers who are always on the prowl for youth who are susceptible to their empty promises of love, friendship and more.

The summer is not only the hottest month temperature-wise, but with children out of school, spending more time online and on their smart phones, summer is also a hot time for sexual predators. As we head off to work, are we unwittingly leaving them in the hands of potential traffickers?

Authorities in eight states recently arrested 82 people in operations that also rescued or identified 17 children thought to be victims of exploitation according to officials in a CNN news report.

“This three-day operation provides a snapshot of the work that the (Internet Crimes Against Children) Task Force is doing round the clock, seven days per week. Predators are real, and they walk among us,” Alan K. Flora, commander of the North Carolina task force, said.

The raids and undercover operations targeted people who had or were distributing child pornography and others who used technology and the internet to exploit children, according to the news release from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.

Click here to read an FBI report on how Youth Face a Risk of Sextortion Online.

How can we protect our kids locally?

  • Monitor your child’s online activity.
  • Install software to protect them from visiting inappropriate sites as pornography is readily available to all ages with a click of a button.
  • Engage in conversations about the dangers of providing any personal information and/or pictures online.

What can you do globally?

  • Buy Fair Trade and Direct Trade Coffee. You can find this in your local grocery stores or order online at crsfairtrade.org or www.serrv.org
  • Look for locally sourced sugar
  • The Food Empowerment Project recommends buying bananas from small, farmer-owned cooperatives such as Coliman, Earth University, Organics Unlimited/GROW. If your grocery stores do not carry these brands of bananas, encourage them to.
  • Let companies know that fair and just wages for their workers is important to you as a consumer.

To learn more about these issues or to schedule a presentation, contact the Diocese of Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force at 407-658-1818, Ext. 1122.

By Christine Commerce, Human Trafficking Task Force Coordinator – June 2019