Global tobacco companies have no excuse. The life chances of children are being destroyed, and the problem is growing
Child labour should never be taken lightly, but there is a widespread assumption that a bit of work in the fields is a normal part of growing up in impoverished countries such as Malawi, Bangladesh or Mexico. This notion of some sort of cultural acceptability serves to draw a veil over what is, frankly, abuse and the wrecking of children’s life chances. Child labour is never OK. But when children working boosts the profits of wealthy multinational tobacco corporations, it is an outrage.
It may be acceptable for children aged 13 to 15 to work in the tobacco fields, says the International Labour Organization (ILO), as long as the work does not have a harmful impact on their health or education. They are helping mum and dad. But this concept of happy families and cosy lives is an illusion. This is not a paper round after school, or learning needlework at a mother’s knee. The reality under the blazing sun, wielding a heavy homemade hoe, is very different.