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Don't Let the Child Slavery Conversation Die

06/13/2013 10:46 EDT | Updated 08/13/2013 05:12 EDT

You likely remember the horror of the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh. Media couldn't stop writing, broadcasting and tweeting about it. Canadians couldn't stop talking about it. Water coolers and playgrounds -- normally spots for chats about the NHL and the weather -- became forums for discussion about the brutal conditions of child labourers all over the world.

After the collapse, we were all turning our clothing inside out to see where it was made. Many Canadians began drawing connections between the low prices on our sale racks and the low wages paid to workers overseas. Not to mention the lack of building, inspection and maintenance standards that caused the roof to cave.

But that was two months ago. The incident was horrific, certainly. But surely the right people are now on the job, ensuring that issues raised by the collapse are duly dealt with? Just days ago, Bangladesh suspended seven inspectors it accuses of negligence in events leading to the collapse. Good news. Would it be too unfeeling for us hard-working Canadians to put the messy issue of child labour on hold for now?

Children still in danger

The trouble with this approach is clear, if not terribly easy to swallow. As we mark the World Day Against Child Labour, more than 115-million children are forced to work in jobs that are dirty, dangerous and degrading. In many cases, they face conditions as hazardous as the garment factory in Bangladesh. Yet as media coverage of the garment factory story slows, we run the risk that the issue will take a back burner.

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Child actors portray child labourers in a downtown Toronto store window.

World Vision is fighting to keep the conversation about child slavery going strong. Wednesday in Toronto and Vancouver, we staged potentially shocking events in store windows to generate discussion about child slavery -- and encourage Canadians to help. Brown-papered windows were uncovered to reveal child labourers hard at work in jobs that break backs and destroy souls. It's a part of our #NoChildForSale Campaign, launched across Canada this week.

Child slaves don't get breaks

The children in the windows were young Canadian actors, paid according to acting union standards. They were accompanied by their parents, and provided with many breaks. This afternoon, they'll play with their friends. Tomorrow, they'll be back in their classrooms.

Seeing the dirt and smudges the makeup artist applied to the children, and watching the actors comfortably laughing with their parents during break, I thought of children I met in a Cambodian brick factory last spring.

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A girl in a Cambodian brick factory works in the baking sun, seven days a week.

These children were not acting. They were slaving in the baking sun. The dirt was not makeup. There were no breaks; they worked seven days a week. Worst of all, they're likely in exactly the same place today that they were one year ago.

The shopping choices you make are crucial to determining the future of child labourers around the world. But so is your voice in keeping this conversation going. Please visit Nochildforsale.ca to learn how you can speak up.

Faces Of Child Labor