When a smoker purchases a pack of cigarettes, he may not be aware that he is actively participating in the exploitation of children in tobacco fields throughout the world, says a recent report from The Guardian. The number of children working in tobacco fields continues to increase in developing countries, and the consequences are alarming. Employed to harvest and process tobacco leaves in harsh conditions, children under the age of fourteen do not have time to go to school, which is affecting their professional futures as well as their health.
While many poor families are sending their children to the tobacco fields in order to make measly sums, cigarette makers are raking in billions of dollars. In Malawi, a fourteen-year-old girl said, “I wanted to become a nurse.” Instead, she uses a hoe to weed tobacco fields under a scorching sun. Vera Da Costa e Silva, doctor and chief secretary for the World Health Organization’s Convention on Tobacco Control, does not believe that any legitimate solution has been found to handle the crisis. Meanwhile, the tobacco industry is directly responsible for over 7 million deaths per year. The tobacco industry also benefits from the fact that massive multinational corporations pay almost nothing to sharecroppers. Given the lack of pay, poor families will inevitably send their children to earn in the fields.
Children living in extreme poverty are most at risk
Doctor Vera Da Costa e Silva said that in 2011, approximately 1.3 million children were working in tobacco fields. According to the UN’s International Labor Organization, the situation is getting worse primarily because the tobacco industry’s production is migrating to poor countries like Zimbabwe. This shift in production has led to a rise in the number of child workers, who often have to do the hardest work, and in appalling conditions. It is impossible to estimate just how many children are working in tobacco fields throughout the world. However, recent investigations suggest that the phenomenon is most prevalent in the poorest tobacco producing communities.
In Malawi, many children are forced to weed tobacco fields and to harvest tobacco leaves instead of going to school. Parents do not receive their children’s salaries until the entire harvest has been sold, which means that they often have to feed an entire family with a single bucket of corn per week. In Mexico and Indonesia, the living conditions are hardly more favourable …
The US Department of Labor has established a list of 16 countries suspected of allowing children to work in the tobacco industry. Human rights organizations have also produced documentaries on the subject after speaking with child workers in Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Brazil, and Zimbabwe, with the hopes of giving rise to more international awareness.