|A boy in DR Congo holds a sifting screen at a copper mine in south-eastern Katanga province, where an estimated 25 per cent of children under 14 work in hazardous conditions.|
By Amy Bennett
NEW YORK, USA, 12 June 2008 – The UN International Labour Organization has designated today the World Day against Child Labour. Observed annually, it is a day to raise awareness about the cycle of poverty that results when children must work and therefore miss out on educational opportunities.
UNICEF estimates that there are 158 million children under the age of 15 who are trapped in child labour around the world. The vast majority of these children have little hope of gaining access to education or to shrug off the burden of illiteracy that threatens to undermine their future.
Education is a basic right of all children. Eliminating incentives for children to work is a key component of getting them into school, along with education programmes that are free and child-friendly.
When children have no choice
At the Ruashi mining site in Katanga province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, one local woman returned day after day, working side-by-side with her son.
“I like the job because it helps me to survive,” she said. “I do not like to see my children working here, but we don’t have a choice now. We hope when we get much more money, the children can get out.”
A youth protection worker at the site, Chrisante Kyondwa, explained: “The mining environment presents a lot of danger and risks for children. There are children who begin work at 8 and finish at 3 p.m. It is a difficult job that has a huge impact on the child’s health.”
|© UNICEF video|
|Mothers from impoverished families work with their children at a reclaimed mining site in DR Congo.|
Effects of school fee abolition
UNICEF has assisted 500 children so far from the Ruashi mines to go back to school. There are no longer any child labourers in these particular mines. Still, the larger problem has not gone away – though the number of children out of school has dropped from 115 million in 2002 to 93 million in 2006.
Part of this success has come from new initiatives to bring down the cost of schooling, making it more accessible to more children. For example, the School Fee Abolition Initiative, launched by UNICEF and the World Bank in 2005, supports governments in implementing school fee abolition policies.
In addition, there has been a 5 per cent increase in enrolment and retention of schoolchildren in 11 countries in West Africa, primarily due to the provision of essential learning packages. When impoverished parents don’t have to find the money to buy school supplies, they are more likely to send their children to school.
|A girl street vendor in Nigeria, carrying her wares in a basket, is one of the estimated 158 million children under 15 who are trapped in various forms of child labour worldwide.|
Tackling child labour step-by-step
But millions of children are still engaged in hazardous or exploitive conditions – labouring in mines, working with chemicals and pesticides in agriculture, operating dangerous machinery or toiling as domestic servants.
The Millennium Development Goals set a target of ensuring that by 2015 all children complete a full course of primary education, and that both boys and girls have equal opportunities for education.
Several important steps must be taken to meet these targets. Among them are universal provision of free and compulsory education – including lowering the barriers to girls’ education – and providing safe spaces in which children can learn. Step by step, it is necessary to move children from the workplace and into the classroom.
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