International Literacy Day 2016

Truly imagine that you could not read these words right now. What do you think you would be doing instead?

While the number of illiterate persons has fallen over the past decade, 774 million adults (64% of which are women) still lack basic reading and writing skills. Literacy rates have also risen for youth—it is suspected that 91% of the world’s youth are literate—but similar to that of adults, the majority of youth who remain illiterate are girls.

The greatest disparities in literacy are in Central and West Africa as well as South Asia. These regions also are host to some of the greatest numbers in child labor.

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Data provided by UNICEF, 2016.

Child labor is classified as children who are either too young to work or are involved in hazardous activities that may compromise their physical, mental, social or educational development. In the least developed countries in the world, nearly one in four children (ages 5-14) are engaged in labor that is considered detrimental to their development.

According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, “(we) recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”

It is believed that there are at least 150 million child laborers in the world; many are not in school and function as a core provider for their families. These rates can often rise during emergency situations.

Currently, a famine has struck Southern Africa due to the weather pattern of El Nino. The lack of food has caused many children to drop out of school to work and be able to better provide for their families. (Read this Concern Worldwide story to learn more about El Nino.)

When children drop out of school to work and provide for their families, they very rarely return to their studies. And often, many learned skills (like reading and writing) can be lost if not consistently practiced, therefore condemning many to a lifetime of physical labor to survive.The continuation of child labor adds to the cycle of extreme poverty by taking children out of educational environments.

There are people around the world advocating for children to stay in school, like Malala Youzafsai635818446043317487-1207666941_Malala-Quote-10.10-Twitter who actually suffered an attack by the Taliban in her home country of Pakistan, for standing up for girls’ education. Malala has since been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (as the youngest recipient ever) and continues to advocate for all children to be in school. Check out the Malala Fund to learn more.

You may not be Malala, but on this global day of literacy, you can bring awareness to your peers about the reality of illiteracy in our world and advocate for the rights of children everywhere to stay in school.

Katie Talley is a summer intern at Concern Worldwide U.S.