Child Labor Essay Prompts For Middle School

A free teaching kit from UNICEF builds student awareness about the worldwide problem of child labor. Included: Information about UNICEF's Kids Speak Up for Kids Essay Contest.
Additional activities included.


Note from EducationWorld editors: Some of the links in this article are no longer live; and some of the resources mentioned are no longer available. We are keeping the article on our live site because there are ideas that remain valuable. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the dead links.

  • A fourteen-year-old girl in Bangladesh works 12 hours a day to earn the equivalent of $12 a month.
  • Children working as scavengers in the Philippines earn up to $3 a day, enough to supply their families with necessities such as rice, firewood, and gas.
  • In Indonesia, children -- most of them girls -- work on tobacco plantations for 60 cents a day.
  • In Zimbabwe, children work a 60-hour week picking cotton or coffee to earn about $1.
True stories, all of them.

As much as we would like to believe that things like that aren't happening, "the sad truth is that millions of children throughout the world work daily under nightmarish conditions," according to Charles J. Lyons, president of the U.S. Committee for UNICEF. "They work in factories and in fields, in cities and in remote villages. Some struggle just to stay alive; others support entire families."

Child labor around the world is the focus of "Kids Helping Kids," a series of lessons produced by the U.S. Committee for UNICEF and Children's Television Workshop (CTW). The "Kids Helping Kids" packet is available free to teachers. Each packet includes two guides -- one for grades 1-5 and one for grades 6-12; a colorful classroom poster; a copy of an issue of TIME for Kids (headline story: "Too Hard at Work, Too Soon"); and other materials.

Grade 1-5 activities include lessons in understanding

  • the world of work,
  • that it's important to do something extra for someone who could use your help,
  • the value of money -- of saving some and of using some to help others,
  • the jobs that make a community work, and
  • that in some places -- places where laws protecting children don't exist -- children don't get to go to school because they must work.

Grade 6-12 activities include lessons in

  • understanding that children in many places around the world don't have the freedoms U.S. children have,
  • identifying students' goals and exploring their priorities in life, and
  • thinking and planning ahead for the future.

At all grade levels, students are encouraged to think of ways to help out in their communities -- from doing errands for a neighbor who can't get out to contributing toys to a local shelter; from volunteering to tutor a younger child to planting a garden to raise food for others.

Kids might even want to help UNICEF wage a war against child labor. Giving kids the opportunity to help can bring about some pretty amazing results. From the UNICEF kit come three examples:

  • A middle school in Quincy, Massachusetts, raised more that $130,000 through car washes, bake sales, walkathons, and other activities. The money was used to build a school and other facilities for former child workers in Pakistan and India.
  • Students at Monroe High School in Los Angeles convinced the city's school board to agree not to buy soccer balls made using child labor.
  • A group of 5- to 9-year olds in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, raised $137 from a bake sale for an anti-child labor group.

Geography. Child labor is a big problem in parts of many countries, including:

  • In Central and South America: Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, and Brazil.
  • In Europe: Portugal.
  • In Africa: Morocco, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho.
  • In Asia and off its coast: Pakistan, India, Nepal, China, Bangladesh, Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia.
For young students: List on the board and say the names of the countries. Invite students to work in groups to find as many of the countries as they can on a world map.
For older students: Hand out a copy of a world map to each student. Invite students to locate and shade in each of the countries listed above so they can get a visual idea of how widespread a problem child labor is.

Listening activity. Read aloud the "The Life and Death of Iqbal Masih," a story that appears on the back cover of the "Kids Helping Kids" activity book for grades 6-12. (For younger students, read aloud a revised version of that story at the end of this article.) Then ask students the following questions to test their listening skills. (Answers are in parentheses.)

  • How old was Iqbal when his father sold him? (4 years old)
  • To whom did Iqbal's father sell the young boy? (to the owners of a carpet factory)
  • How much money was Igbal's father paid? ($12)
  • How many hours a day did Iqbal work in the factory? (14 hours)
  • When Iqbal escaped, he was able to do something he'd always dreamed of doing. What was he able to do? (go to school)
  • Iqbal traveled around the world sharing a special message with many people. What message did Iqbal share? (He wanted people to take responsibility for those children who are forced to work in countries around the world.)
  • According to Iqbal, how many children around the world were working as enslaved laborers? (200 million)
  • What happened to Igbal on Easter Sunday, 1995? (He was shot to death while riding a bicycle.)
  • How old was Igbal when he was shot? (12 years old)
  • Who, do you think, might have shot Igbal? (Accept student responses. Some people feel Igbal was shot by someone who was unhappy that Iqbal was speaking out against child labor.)

Web surfing. Invite students to learn more about Iqbal Masih by checking out a couple of Internet sites. (See the sites listed below.)

Map-reading activity. Use the map that appears in the sample issue of TIME for Kids (included in the "Kids Helping Kids" packet). Post the map at a learning center, along with the following questions for kids to answer using the map. Answers appear in parentheses.

  • In how many countries on the map do kids work by making clothes? (twelve)
  • In which countries do kids work in fireworks factories? (India and China)
  • What kind of work do many kids in Egypt do? (make carpets)
  • In which country do kids pick flowers for work? (Colombia)
  • In how many countries do kids work at making sporting goods equipment? (three)
  • Do more kids around the world work making shoes or making furniture? (making shoes)
  • What kind of work do kids in Zimbabwe do? (mining)
  • In which two countries do kids work in toy factories? (Mexico and China)

For young students...

  • The Kids Campaign to Build Children in Quincy, Massachusetts, raised money to build a school to honor Igbal Masih. Check out some information about Igbal's life and photos of the school at this site.

For older students only...

  • UNICEF's Child Labour Page provides links to many sites related to the issue of child labor.
  • International Child Labor Study Office of the Bureau of International Labor Affairs offers plenty of links to a two-part report titled "By the Sweat and Toil of Children" and to other child labor reports.

When Iqbal Masih was only four years old, his father sold him to the owners of a carpet making factory. The factory owners paid Iqbal's father $12 for the boy. For the next six years, Iqbal was chained to a loom in a carpet factory for 14 hours a day, six days a week.

Iqbal was small and weak. He grew weaker as he was repeatedly beaten for disobeying the factory owners. The boy was given just enough food to keep him alive and working.

When he was ten years old, Iqbal managed to escape. Freedom allowed Iqbal to do something he'd always dreamed of: Going to school.

Iqbal became a spokesperson for the children who were left behind in the carpet factory -- and for children everywhere. He spoke out against the terrible abuses that child laborers suffer in his country, Pakistan. Iqbal carried his message to many other countries too, including the United States. In the United States, Iqbal was honored for his work in support of human rights for children. Wherever he went, Iqbal took his message: "The world's 200 million enslaved children are your responsibility."

After two years of freedom, during which he helped to free thousands of children, Iqbal Masih, at the age of 12, was shot and killed in his home village while riding his bicycle on Easter Sunday, 1995.

Today Igbal's murder remains unsolved.

The packet detailed in this article is no longer available. However, you can still find useful information about UNICEF programs and tips for fundraising on the organization's Web page Kids Helping Kids.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2008 Education World

Originally published 09/29/1997
Last updated 05/05/2008

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