There are millions of children that live under precarious conditions and exposed to exploitation, such a situation represents a heavy burden that shows the worst face of dehumanization on our planet.
Today, World Day Against Child Labor, the call is to reflect on how we can move forward to fight these harmful practices which in Puerto Rico and other countries threaten the safety of children and undermine their full development.
According to the United Nations (UN), approximately 168 million children are forced to work. Experts in Puerto Rico state that this group also includes minors on the island who are victims of human trafficking, as part of sexual abuse practices or the use of minors in criminal activities related to drug trafficking, among others.
The UN stresses that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were signed by world leaders in 2015, include a commitment to end child labor. That´s why they called on the international community to "take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor.”
In Puerto Rico, research funded by the Ricky Martin Foundation has documented the magnitude of human trafficking and its impact on children when they are subjected to prostitution, child pornography or to drug trafficking activities.
Worldwide, thousands of children are forced to work in agriculture, textile sweatshops and others are tragically enlisted in military groups to serve as soldiers under conditions of extreme violence. Children in different countries suffer a disgraceful torment that includes multiple forms of sexual exploitation, among other abuses.
Ending these abuses requires a variety of concerted efforts between governments, private companies, non-profit organizations, and all citizens. Some of the initial steps focus on educating to raise awareness about the problem. This will encourage the growing reporting of harmful practices and could lead to more investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for abusing children.
A sound equation against child labor and all forms of child exploitation requires that governments legislate extensive protections for this population and take comprehensive actions to eradicate such practices. They must be complemented by initiatives to fight poverty and inequality that represent obstacles to development.
In Puerto Rico, at least 58 percent of Puerto Ricans under the age of 18 live in poverty. This makes them vulnerable to forced labor and physical and psychological abuse, among other things.
On the island, as in other countries, it will be essential to develop a coherent public policy that comprehensively protectsall children and promotes conditions that allow their full development.
These efforts should include measures covering child protection, nutrition, and health, followed by the implementation of efficient educational programs from an early age, with resources that contribute to the constructive socialization of each child.
Children are the most precious assets of any equitable society focused on the common good. For this reason, we must guarantee children healthy family and community environments that promote dignified treatment and full development.
In embracing the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN, we stress that our children should only work on their dreams, goals, and projections to contribute to society according to their interests and capacities.
Moving forward in the social transformations that contribute to everyone´s well-being will mainly depend on the protection and support we provide to all children from now on.