1The children who fight bulls in Mexican arenas
To aficionados, bullfighting is an art. To the rest of the world, it is a cruel sport which is nothing more than a dance of death. Matadors take massive risks to duel with bulls in an arena. However, they do get rewarded handsomely for their bravery.
It is estimated that a figura
or a superstar matador makes as much as £335,000 in a single appearance. In a third world country like Mexico, where every penny matters, starry eyed kids are volunteering to join bullfighting academies to pursue what is considered one of most dangerous professions in the world.
Bullfighting has origins datingback to the reign of Gilgamesh. The sport was been replicated in Roman arenas and eventually found its way to Hispanic Europe.
The sport is strictly regulated and the directives vary from country to country. Portugal does not allow killing of the animal, and it is illegal in Spain for anyone under the age of 16 to kill a bull. Mexico and Central America however, have more relaxed rules.
In Mexico, bullfighting academies accept students as young as 6, and every year thousands of young children enroll in one of Mexico's bullfighting academies in hopes of becoming a figura. Only a few among thousands enrolled have a shot at becoming a matador, and the odds of becoming a figura are even worse. Injuries eventually force most of the kids out of the arena.
2The teens who run drugs for Mexican cartels
Cheap, expendable and under the age of 18 –these are the qualifications that can land you a not-so-attractive position as a drug mule or lookout in a Mexican cartel. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has seen an increased number of teens being used to ferry drugs such as methamphetamine across the border.
A majority of these teens are addicted to the drugs they sell. El Mezon Rehab Centre is one of the biggest rehab centers in Mexico. Located in Tijuana, El Mezon treats thousands of teenagers addicted to criloco, or methamphetamine.
While most of the teens employed within the cartels usually work as mules or lookouts, there at least one instance in which a 14-year-old boy, known as El Ponchis, was arrested in central Mexico. It was later revealed that El Ponchis was kidnapped at the age of 11 and initiated into the cartel. He had been part of as many as 4 beheadings at the time of his arrest. His arrest revealed a dangerous trend – cartels have started employing child soldiers as a part of their hit squad.
It is prohibited under Mexican law to maintain any documents pertaining to crimes committed by minors. In many parts of Mexico, minors cannot be jailed for a term greater than 7 years, regardless of their crimes. As a result some believe the trend could have emerged due to the outdated laws.
3The children of Russian spies who are being groomed as operatives
A Russian spy ring brought down in the U.S. government about 4 years ago revealed startling information regarding the modus operandi of its spies. One of the discoveries made during the investigation: spies were training their children to replace them when they grew up.
It isn't clear if these rumors are true, so far the suspects have denied all accusations. Regardless, most of these "spy kids" have been deported back to Russia.
The kids were allegedly trained in plain sight. They were sent to the most elite schools in the U.S., and encouraged to learn multiple languages. In fact, most of the kids at the time of their parents' arrests were proficient in several foreign languages, including English. Eventually they would apply for government jobs in the U.S., as their background would be spotless compared to that of their parents.
The kids had an especially tough time when the spy ring was busted. A majority of them were suffering from identity crises as every one of them was raised under a false name and identity. It is safe to assume none of them became the Russian equivalent of Jason Bourne.
4The young Ghanaian women who are slaves to fetish priests
The Ewe people of West Africa (prominently Ghana) have some very unusual religious practices. According to Trokosi tradition, a virgin girl is sentenced to a life of imprisonment, sexual servitude, hard labour and never ending child bearing while serving the village (fetish) priest at the behest of the gods.
Many of these young girls are often given away to temples as repentance for crimes ranging from the trivial (i.e., the theft of a goat) to the heinous (murder). Girls are even sacrificed for crimes a long dead relative “may have” committed.
Some of the girls are fifth or sixth generation slaves. In many cases, neither the families of these slaves nor the priests at the shrines remember the nature of the crimes for which they are repenting.
While the government has been trying to abolish this custom, fetish priests are considered to be highly influential in the spiritual world. As a result, Ewe women suffer in silence, while an estimated 10,000 young women remain in indentured servitude to the priests. Much of the world remains oblivious to this practice and many Ghanians consider the Trokosi tradition to be an important part of their culture.
5The children who serve in armies across the globe
Battle is considered to be the ultimate competition. It brings out the best and worst in people. War brings people closer, forges bonds of brotherhood and friendships that last a lifetime, but war also brings about exploitation, destruction and leaves scars that last for generations.
War has a way of taking everything away from the most vulnerable, especially the women and children. Throughout history, there are several examples of children being involved in armed conflicts as spies, lookouts or in supporting roles to the combatants.
Many often think of Africa as a shining beacon for using child soldiers, but the list of countries that have used children in the military is far too high. As an example, during WWII child soldiers played an important role in Stalin's Red Army and also in the Jewish Resistance.
Today, there are over 200,000 child soldiers fighting in various places including many central African countries, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Afghanistan, Bahrain and the Middle East. These children not only face the danger of death, but also go through experiences that change them for life.
6The children who toil in the firework factories of India
Sivakasi, located in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is home to the world's second largest fireworks industry with over 800 functioning factories. The fireworks come from the sweat and labour of children that work in this region.
Child labor has always been synonymous with the fireworks industry in Sivakasi and it is a menace that just doesn't go away despite stringent regulations.
While government intervention has ensured that children are away from hazardous industrial settings, the problem is far solved. Today, a majority of these children work for home based manufacturers that do not follow any form of safety or health regulations. Children in these mom and pop fireworks shops mix the chemical ingredients for fireworks with their bare hands, which results in scaled skin, poisoning and other health issues. This lack of safeguards has also led to fires and explosions that have taken the lives of many a child worker.
7The children who work in the tobacco fields of the United States
If you thought that the problems of child labor was limited to third world countries, think again. According to a report from Human Rights Watch, a good number of children who work in the tobacco fields of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina often report nausea, dizziness and headaches (symptoms synonymous with nicotine poisoning).
U.S. laws clearly prohibits the sale of tobacco products to children. However, it does not prevent them from working on farms where they are exposed to the harmful effects of tobacco at a very early stage. In addition, leading cigarette manufacturers in the U.S. source their tobacco from these farms. So, the next time you pick up that cigarette know that you may be poisoning hundreds of children who work on farms and are exposed to nicotine and pesticides daily.
Children working in these conditions often develop cancer, and have issues with learning and cognitive abilities once they grow up.
8The child miners of Tanzania who are their family's only source of income
Tanzania is one of the biggest producers of gold in all of Africa. For all you know your wedding ring may have come from one of the mines there, but beneath all that glitter there likely is the blood, sweat and tears of a child.
Children who work in the artisan mines of Tanzania are largely the sole breadwinners in their family. They often work shifts exceeding 24 hours, brave injury and risk their lives just to get food for their families. Mining has also lead to poor attendance in schools and prolonged health care issues for the children from mercury poisoning and dust inhalation.
9The Japanese children of gangsters whose fate is decided at birth
The Yakuza is perhaps the deadliest organized crime syndicate in the world. With its origins dating back to the 17th century, members are among the most feared people in Japan.
The Yakuza is highly organized and its members are strictly disciplined. However, a closer examination reveals a much darker side, especially when it comes to new recruits. Some members of the Yakuza inherit their place in the organization by simply being children of mobsters.
Children and the women within the Yakuza are under constant turmoil. Not much was known about them until 2007 when Shoko Tendo, a daughter of one of the Yakuza bosses, published her biography.
Her book, Yakuza Moon: The Memoirs of a Gangster's Daughter, gives us a sneak peak into the lives Yakuza families. Tendo speaks of being addicted to drugs and raped on several occasions by men who fed her addiction and left her beaten when they were through with her. Even members of Yakuza to whom her father was indebted would rape her. She was physically abused by her partners, and on one occasion underwent facial reconstruction surgery to hide the scars of the aftermath.
10The Indian children who risk their lives making bangles for tourists
Indian glass bangles are popular among tourists and locals alike. However, behind the glitter lies oppression. A vast majority of these bangles are manufactured by small shops that are classified under an unorganized sector by the Indian government, meaning there is no concern whatsoever for labor laws. Workers are ignored to the extent that most of them lack basic amenities and many manufacturers hire children to reduce their overhead.
Poverty forces families to send the kids to poorly-vented, dingy factories for work. Once inside, they toil beside adults making trinkets so they can help their families.
While child labor is strictly prohibited in India, in areas such as Firozabad, Uttar Pradesh (the hub of glass and bangle manufacturing), local authorities are in collusion with owners of factories and often look the other way. This is perhaps the only reason why children continue to work there, despite raids conducted on the manufacturers, and rehabilitation programs set up to help child laborers.
These children not only lose their innocence, but eventually their health. Working for prolonged hours in glass factories with poor ventilation causes breathing disorders in some kids. Many suffer from asthma and die. Families refuse treatment, afraid that authorities may not let the kids return to work.