Hesperian Health Guides
Factory work harms children
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Work dangers that affect children are not different from the dangers faced by adults. They include noise, dust, chemicals, fire, and repetitive motion.
But dangerous working conditions can harm children more because their bodies and minds are still developing and are more vulnerable to injury and disease. An injury or illness due to work can slow a child’s development or cause a disability that will prevent the child from learning, working, or getting a better job as an adult.
Children are injured more often than adults
Some factory owners hire children for certain jobs because they think they have nimble fingers. However, children are at greater risk of becoming injured because they are smaller and do not have as much control as adults over their bodies and movements. Machines, tools, and workstations are designed for adults, not children’s smaller bodies.
Dangers that affect children more than adults
Noise: Young workers are more at risk of hearing loss than adults. Noise exposure limits set for adults are not safe for children. See Chapter 13: Noise.
Heat: Young workers also have a lower heat tolerance than adults. A safe environment for an adult might not be safe for a child. (See Chapter 15: Heat and cold.)
Heavy work: Heavy work may place excessive stress on growing bones and might cause bone damage or impaired growth.
Chemicals: Children are more easily and seriously harmed by chemicals because:
- Their bodies are smaller so they receive a proportionally higher dose of toxics than adults when exposed to the same amount.
- Their bodies are growing and are more vulnerable to damage caused by toxic chemicals. Toxic exposure at work can harm children’s growing organs, hormonal balances, and skin, and increase their risk of cancers.
- Their bones and bodies absorb lead, other metals, and fumes faster than adult bodies do, which can cause learning and developmental problems.
- They breathe faster than adults, which makes it more likely that they will get sick from indoor and outdoor air pollution.
- They are closer to the ground and are more likely to eat, breathe, or touch chemicals that drift to the ground.
Physical development harmed
Working children suffer growth problems and slowed physical development because of:
Lack of activity: Child workers often cannot play, explore their neighborhood, or interact with other children. Neither do they rest as much as they need to for healthy physical development. Exposure to toxics: Working children exposed to toxics can have health problems such as headaches, difficulty breathing, long-term reproductive problems, cancers, or even death. Toxics can also harm a young person’s ability to learn.
Lack of food: Some children work so the family can eat. Yet children working in factories often put off meals while working or to meet production targets. Malnourished children can have poorer health, loss of vision, stunted growth, learning disabilities, and less energy compared to other children.
Boring work: Children doing simple, boring work instead of going to school, studying, and playing will not gain the mental, social, and learning skills important to do well in their community and society.
Missed school: Child laborers usually cannot complete school and may not learn to read, write, or do math. Children who do not get an education have fewer work opportunities as adults.
Noor lives in Serdang Lama, a small village in Selangor state in the country of Malaysia. She has been working since the age of 7 in a small T-shirt factory.
She folds printed T-shirts to be packaged. She works 6 days a week from 8:30 in the morning until 5:30 in the evening. She does not have time to play with other children.