The Exploitation of Children in a Season that Celebrates Love

The role of the media is to inform, report and humanize the facts and figures that are more easily assigned to cells in a spreadsheet. Not to rewrite what is into what they feel will please their masters. Most “news” hours are spent rehashing ever-repeated rhetoric, “language that is intended to influence people and that may not be honest or reasonable.” – Merriam Webster.

The key word is “humanize,” because we are human, after all, and if we considered the human consequences of our actions, and those of the people we elect and choose to serve and lead us, and report to us, life might be very different, especially for those who are most vulnerable.

In this season, I can’t help but wonder if there is hope for humanity (or if there is any humanity left in the world) when it comes to so many of our precious gifts, our children. How many of them are hungry, sexually abused, maimed and killed so that the adults who control them can profit from their work, their sexual innocence, their very lives. While we talk the good game, we disregard the sins that are concealed by the powerful who perpetrate crimes against children, in our own country and around the world.

196 countries have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), but the United States has not.

While our government helped draw up the human rights treaty that was adopted in 1989, we have failed to commit to its promise, which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children worldwide. President Obama considered our lack of commitment to be an embarrassment, yet neither he nor any other president since that time requested that the Senate act to close the gap. And so, they haven’t. The reasons, of course, are mostly political.

According to the UNCRC, those under the age of eighteen have the right to:

  • life, survival and development;
  • education that facilitates them to reach their full potential;
  • protection from abuse, violence or neglect;
  • express opinions and be heard; and
  • be raised by or have a relationship with their parents.

The complete text can be read at Convention on the Rights of the Child text | UNICEF.

The United States did sign two later protocols—the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.

Children are exploited and abused in every country of the world. The statistics on child trafficking are frightening. According to Save the Children, “Human trafficking can include forced labor, domestic servitude, organ trafficking, debt bondage, recruitment of children as child soldiers, and/or sex trafficking and forced prostitution.”

Child Soldiers

Eben Kaplan noted on the Council of Foreign Relations website that “Children are combatants in nearly three-quarters of the world’s conflicts and have posed difficult dilemmas for the professional armies they confront, including the United States.’ Yet moral reasons aside, compelling strategic arguments exist for limiting the use of child soldiers. When conflicts involving children end, experts say the prospects for a lasting peace are hurt by large populations of psychologically scarred, demobilized child soldiers. Parts of Africa, Asia, and South America risk long-term instability as generations of youth are sucked into ongoing wars.”

A Reuters article lists the range of facts, including that “The recruitment and use of children as soldiers is one of the six U.N.-defined violations affecting children in times of war. The list also includes: the killing and maiming of children, sexual violence against children, child abductions, attacks against schools or hospitals and the denial of humanitarian access for children.

Child Sexual Exploitation

The FBI includes their investigative priorities in their Crimes Against Children/Online Predators — FBI as

  • Child abductions—the mysterious disappearance of a minor, especially a minor of tender years (12 or younger).
  • Contact offenses against children—production of child sexual abuse material (CSAM), sextortion, domestic travel to engage in sexual activity with children, and international travel to engage in sexual activity with children.
  • Sexual exploitation of children—online networks and enterprises manufacturing, trading, distributing, and/or selling CSAM.
  • Trafficking of CSAM—distribution or possession.
  • International parental kidnapping—wrongfully retaining a child outside the United States with the intent to obstruct the lawful exercise of parental rights.

Sexual exploitation of children is the most heinous crime of all. The predators commit their crimes on beautiful estates or in luxury hotels, but also in vermin-infested slums and seedy backrooms. All should be treated with equal punishment. And it should be swift and severe.

Child Laborers

Children under 16 are allowed to work on their family’s farms, but not for unrelated employers. This would constitute “Oppressive child labor” … a condition of employment under which (1) any employee under the age of sixteen years is employed by an employer (other than a parent or a person standing in place of a parent employing his own child or a child in his custody under the age of sixteen . . .” The Fair Labor Standards Act Of 1938, As Amended 224-120 final Pdf.pdf (

The truth is that 1 of every 7 children across the global are exploited in this way. A Facebrook “friend” put up a post that cut like a knife, mainly because every response was a thumbs up, a heart or a laugh emoji. It showed a large family sitting around their feast, with a caption that said, “Thank You Jesus.” Below was a photo of a young Latino boy picking lettuce with a caption that read, “De Nada.”

Not only do young children work in the fields and climb trees all over the world to satisfy our insatiable appetites for exotic and out-of-season foods, many are forced to do so. Scott Simon’s piece for National Public Radio focuses on just one, Opinion: Do you know who’s picking your açaí berries? : NPR Simon describes how young Brazilian children climb high into the 60-ft. palms, so slender that they won’t bear the weight of a grown man. We can enjoy our healthy smoothie, but at what cost to these children. Slave labor is horrible, but child slave labor?

2020 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor ( notes that, “The countries on the List span every region of the world. The most common agricultural goods listed are sugarcane, cotton, coffee, tobacco, cattle, rice, and fish. In the manufacturing sector, bricks, garments, textiles, footwear, carpets, and fireworks appear most frequently. In mined or quarried goods, gold, coal and diamonds are most common.”

If you are a fan of spreadsheets, here is a very complete one provided by the U.S Department of Labor: 2020ListofGoodsExel.xlsx (

The children who pick coffee beans to be sold at boutique food stores, and the children who are forced into hard labor and sex work while we spit out corporate billionaires by the dozen, are often starving. The UN World Food Program USA lists ten facts about childhood hunger, including that “Nearly Half of All Deaths Among Children Under 5 Are Caused by Hunger.” 10 Facts About Child Hunger in the World (

The World Food Program USA also states that “Consistent with the mission of the U.N. World Food Programme, World Food Program USA works with U.S. policymakers, corporations, foundations and individuals to help provide financial and in-kind resources and develop policies needed to alleviate global hunger.” The nonprofit was awarded a Noble Peace Prize in 2020 for their “efforts to combat hunger, to improve conditions for peace in conflict zones and to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war.”

World hunger nearly doubled in many regions during the worst of the COVID-19 crisis. Consider how the climate crisis, war and food shortages attributable to both could jack up that number. It will take more than a couple of well-functioning nonprofits to provide food access to the children who need it.

The UNCRC defines the “Rights of the Child,” but these rights are not enforced by many of the countries that ratified it, as well as the United States, which did not. It is time to insist that the Senate take action and pass it with the two-thirds majority required and that we then use every means possible, including trade agreements, to enforce it at home and worldwide. It’s time to love and protect all of the world’s children.

Sheila Velazquez lives and writes in Northwest Massachusetts. Her work is informed by decades of experience with unions, agriculture, public health, politics and her support of populism. She welcomes contact by email: Read other articles by Sheila.