About 100,000 children may be working illegally in Greece, according to an estimate from child protection groups and the Greek ombudsman, reports the Greek daily Ekathimerini. The speculation is yet another sign of how Greece’s economic crisis (Greece is in its sixth year of recession and almost 10 percent of children live in a household in which not even one family member has a job) continues to take a huge toll on all sectors of Greek society.
The actual number of children working illegally — whose parents are unemployed and/or who are Roma or migrants and often without any health coverage — can only be estimated. Most of the work child laborers do is undocumented and therefore very likely to consist of low pay, unsafe and substandard conditions. For example, children working on farms in rural areas are being exposed to agricultural chemicals. Child victims of trafficking or forced labor typically work illegally, so they are not included in labor statistics.
The rise in illegal child labor is occurring at a time when Greeks have faced record-high levels of unemployment. For Greeks under age 25, the unemployment rate is 59.2 percent. The country’s overall unemployment rate was 26.8 percent in March. “Unprecedented” numbers of younger Greeks — more than 120,000 recently qualified doctors, engineers, IT professionals and scientists, half with graduate degrees – have been emigrating to Germany, Australia and other countries in search of work. Those who have chosen to stay in Greece face huge obstacles to find employment of any sort.
Information about the number of children dropping out of school in Greece is equally alarming. Eurostat, the European Statistical Authority, says that 11.4 percent of the student population – some 70,000 students — dropped out of school in 2012. According to Ekathimerini, Greece’s own Ministry of Education “could not provide official data regarding children who leave secondary education.” The ministry did note that around 3,500 primary school students had withdrawn from school in 2011-12.
According to the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, ”every kind of labor that puts a child’s physical or intellectual development at risk is prohibited.” Ilias Lyberis, the director of Unicef Hellas, comments that in at least half of child labor cases, it is the child’s own family who has them work. The economic crisis has more than clearly “given rise to new challenges that the state must address.”
But so far, the Greek state has not exactly risen to the challenge of looking out for the needs of its future citizens. Greece has “one of the poorest records in the European Union in terms of policies for the protection of children” regarding tax breaks and other benefits, Ekathimerini points out. In May, Unicef reported that nearly a half a million Greek children are now living in poverty; almost half don’t even have their basic nutritional needs met.
The U.N. and Unicef have called on Greece to adopt a national action plan to address the negative impact of the crisis on children. To address the rising problem of underage workers, Unicef has called for Greece to train labor inspectors to address issues such as trafficking and child labor. The goal is to create a centralized body focusing specifically on these issues and to redesign policy regarding how benefits are paid to minors.
European leaders pledged to spend 6 billion euros over two years on job creation, training and apprenticeships for young people with struggling economies in places like Greece, Spain and Portugal. As the reports of illegal underage workers in Greece make clear, the very youngest Greek citizens are terribly in need of help. The economic crisis is not the only one that Greece faces.