Invisible Children

"Invisibility is a lack of hope, a lack of opportunity, and the inability to access the basic elements that define a safe, productive life, including education, health care, housing, food, clean water, sanitation, and security."  - Invisible Children

Demographics of Invisibility

Child Laborers


Children throughout the world work to help their families.  As many as 300 million children spend parts of their day outside the home working for pay.  But too many of them – nearly 215 million – are involved in the kind of labor that denies them an education and exposes them to harm.  Of these, approximately 115 million are subject to extreme, hazardous, conditions and physical or sexual violence.[i] Parents in Ghana send thousands of children to the Lake Volta region for the chance to work on the boats, but many end up beaten, resold or trafficked.[ii] 

A boy selling books on the streets of Mumbai is part of a cottage industry that targets tourists for quick sale.  The boys sell everything, from books to trinkets to gum to photographs.  Anything that could have value on the street might be up for sale.  One boy, no older than 19, has several other younger boys working for him selling pirated books to people stopped at traffic lights.   These young boys work for less pay than older workers, are generally obedient and, because of their desperation, are willing to face the risks of darting in and out of dense traffic to work on busy roads.   But ironically, because these boys do not attend school, they cannot read the books they sell.[iii]

In some instances it is the children themselves who feel compelled to abandon an education, which pays nothing for the day, to find a job, any job, to help their families.  But too often parents are willing to sell their children’s youth, innocence and potential for a handful of dollars.  Traffickers cannot meet their demand if there is no supply, and parents in poverty or need can be too quick to create that supply by selling their children into bondage. 

A 13 year old Indian girl enslaved by two doctors as a domestic servant, starved and beaten, represents a commoditization of young children by that country’s growing middle and upper classes.[iv]  The International Labor Organization estimates that 12.6 million children in India between the ages of five and 14 are working outside the home, with as many as 20% employed as domestic servants.[v]  Their estimates may be conservative: some observers have placed the number of working children in India as high as 45 million.[vi]  The fact that we really do not know how many working children there are underscores their invisibility.  Data is sketchy, and extremely marginalized children are often hard to find.

Laws to protect children from hazardous labor conditions are regularly ignored.  In India it is illegal for any minor to work in the coal mines because of the harsh and dangerous conditions.  Even so, thousands of children, some as young as six, are conscripted to the mines.  Their smaller bodies fit well into tight places that others cannot reach.  Most of the child miners are orphans, and the rest come from struggling families that need the income.   The work is so dangerous that many locals refuse to work in these mines, so children are brought in from Nepal and Bangladesh to fill the positions.[vii]  The minimal age for employment in Bolivia is 16, but no one pays any attention to the law, and mine operators have no concern for the ages of those they send down into the pits.[viii]  Jose Luis, profiled in Chapter 1 as a laborer in the Potosí mines, is engaged illegally.

The West African country of Togo gets by largely on subsistence agriculture.  Cash crop production generates almost half of its GDP, and much of the work is provided by children, some as young as four.  Children harvest cotton, cocoa and coffee, and they also herd cattle.  A third of all children between five and 14 work, and most of what they do puts them at risk.  Children in agriculture are exposed to insecticides and herbicides, those working in rock quarries breathe in dust while they carry heavy loads up steep slopes, and porters running the streets of Lome dodge in and out of fast-moving traffic.  Others spend their nights in the offshore waters of the Gulf of Guinea catching crabs.  While school is compulsory and free, less than seven out of ten children under the age of 14 bother to go, and many that do are forced to beg on the streets and bring the money they collect to their teachers.[ix]


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[i] Orla Ryan, “FT Seasonal Appeal helps thousands of vulnerable children,” Financial Times, November 27, 2012.  http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/2bb4cea8-47c7-11e3-9398-00144feabdc0.html
[ii] Orla Ryan, “FT Seasonal Appeal helps thousands of vulnerable children,” Financial Times, November 27, 2012.  http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/2bb4cea8-47c7-11e3-9398-00144feabdc0.html
[iii] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/books/review/the-book-boys-of-mumbai.html
[iv] Jim Yardley, “Maid’s Cries Cast Light on Child Labor in India,” New York Times, April 4, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/05/world/asia/india-shaken-by-plight-of-13-year-old-maid.html
[v] http://www.ilo.org/legacy/english/regions/asro/newdelhi/ipec/responses/index.htm http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/05/world/asia/india-shaken-by-plight-of-13-year-old-maid.html
[vi] Jim Yardley, “Maid’s Cries Cast Light on Child Labor in India,” New York Times, April 4, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/05/world/asia/india-shaken-by-plight-of-13-year-old-maid.html
[vii] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/26/world/asia/in-india-missing-school-to-work-in-the-mine.html
[viii] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/11/18/children_of_the_mines; and http://www.vice.com/read/unaccompanied-miners-0000147-v20n11
[ix] Global March Against Child Labor, http://globalmarch.org/Child-Labour-Domestic/resources/togo/Findings%20on%20the%20worst%20forms%20of%20child%20labour2011_Togo.pdf