ROME — Pope Francis denounced widespread child labor abuses Sunday, asserting that 150 million children are exploited to this “slavery” globally.
Recalling Saturday’s celebration of the U.N.’s World Day Against Child Labor, the pope said that it is not possible “to close our eyes before the exploitation of children, deprived of the right to play, to study, and to dream.”
“According to the estimates of the International Labor Organization, more than 150 million children are exploited by labor: this is a tragedy!” the pontiff said, following his weekly Angelus address in Saint Peter’s Square.
Francis went on to note that the figure of 150 million roughly equates to the combined populations of Spain, France, and Italy. “This is happening today!” he said.
“So many children who suffer this: exploited by child labor,” he concluded. “Let us all together renew the effort to eliminate this slavery of our times.”
The United Nations launched the World Day Against Child Labor in 2002 to raise awareness and activism against child labor.
According to the University of Iowa Labor Center, child labor is not just any employment but specifically work “that harms children or keeps them from attending school.”
UNICEF claims that the number of children in child labor is currently 160 million worldwide, which represents an increase of 8.4 million children over the last four years, reversing a downward trend that saw child labor fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016.