Pope Francis called on Tuesday for renewed efforts to free children from “the brutal yoke of labor exploitation.”
“How important it would be for an appropriate and effective juridical order, both international and national in scope, to defend and protect children from this harmful technocratic mentality that has taken over the present,” he said in the message, signed on the pope’s behalf by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
“To this end, there must be an increase in the number of individuals and associations at every level working to ensure that the desire for excessive profit that condemns children and young people to the brutal yoke of labor exploitation gives way to the logic of care.”
The pope’s message was addressed to FAO director general Qu Dongyu at the start of a two-day meeting of the Global Solutions Forum on the theme “Acting together to end child labor in agriculture.”
The event is part of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor, endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly and supported by the International Labour Organization (ILO), a UN agency.
The FAO reports that 70% of child labor takes place in an agricultural setting, with 112 million children working in crop production, livestock, forestry, fisheries, or aquaculture.
The pope’s message described child labor as “a scourge that cruelly wounds the dignified existence and harmonious development of the youngest, considerably limiting their opportunities for the future, as it reduces and damages their lives to meet the productive and lucrative needs of adults.”
“The negative connotations of this drama have been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has pushed an increasing number of minors to drop out of school to fall, unfortunately, into the clutches of this form of slavery,” the pope’s message said.
“For many of our little brothers and sisters, not going to school means not only missing out on opportunities that will enable them to face the challenges of adulthood, but also falling ill, that is, being deprived of their right to health, because of the deplorable conditions in which they have to carry out the tasks that are vilely demanded of them.”
It went on: “If we focus on the agricultural sector, the emergency is even more alarming: thousands of boys and girls are forced to work relentlessly, in exhausting, precarious and demeaning conditions, suffering mistreatment, abuse, and discrimination.”
“But the situation reaches the height of desolation when it is the parents themselves who are forced to send their children to work, because without their active contribution they would not be able to support their families.”
Concluding the message, the pope encouraged the international community to continue “to fight firmly, jointly and decisively against the scourge of child labor.”