By Noel Schroeder —

Child laborerMore children are in school today than ever before. Still, millions of children around the world must balance school with long hours of difficult labor, and millions more are locked out of education entirely, trapped in forced servitude and slavery. They are performing hazardous work in dangerous conditions, weaving rugs, or making bricks, or working in hot factories.

That’s why Women Thrive has joined with Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi and organizations from around the world to call for an end to child labor and slavery. During End Child Slavery Week, from November 20 to 26, we are working together to raise awareness and demand change for the 168 million children involved in labor and 5.5 million in slavery.

Will you join this global movement? You can take action by signing the Global Petition to End Child Slavery<link>.

Child Labor Is a Girls’ Issue

Of those 168 million children trapped in forced labor and slavery, only 40 percent are girls. So why is this a girls issue?

According to the International Labor Organization, global figures on child labor underestimate girls’ involvement in work relative to boys’ because they do not reflect involvement in household chores, especially hazardous chores.

Girls’ labor is less visible and often more culturally acceptable than boys’ labor, and remains a major contributor to why girls have lower rates of school attendance and achievement. As the Global March Against Child Labor reports, “Many girls remain out of school due to the double burden of unpaid domestic chores and engagement in economic activity to support family income.” Around the world, girls are made to devote time to household chores and domestic work at the expense of their studies, even forcing them to leave school altogether.

Child Labor and Education Are Linked

Child labor is a complex and often invisible issue. It is not simply a question of whether a child is in school or working. Often children do both, and it is hidden. A teacher may not know that a girl who he sees in class during the day is forced to work long hours at night doing domestic work for another family, for example.

According to Global March Against Child Labor, “While not all child laborers are kept out of schools, most combine work and school, often with damaging effects on their education.” Child laborers have lower attendance rates, lower academic scores, and higher drop-out rates. “Work also has damaging effects on their physical and mental well-being which negatively impacts their learning and retention at school when given a chance at education.”

To end child labor and slavery, we must also improve access to quality learning outcomes—for advocates like myself, the two issues are inextricably linked. Better education opportunities will provide children an alternative to labor, and stronger enforcement of child labor laws will free children to attend school.

That is why Women Thrive is working to ensure that the United Nations prioritizes both quality education and an end to child labor and slavery in the next round of international development goals.

Take Action to End Child Labor and Slavery

No girl or boy should be denied an education and a childhood. Sign the petition to show that ending child slavery is your priority, too.

Women Thrive and partners around the world will mobilize as many caring people as possible, and then deliver your signatures to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, President Barack Obama, and the U.S. delegation to the United Nations.

Your voice really does have power.