World Day Against Child Labour 12 June 2014
For 168 million girls and boys between the ages of 5 and 17, there is no time to be a child. For these children, being engaged in child labour means being exposed to hazardous conditions, violence and poor treatment. They are being deprived of their right to go to school, putting their health at risk, and being robbed of their childhood.
The most recent figures, based on statistical evidence from UNICEF, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Bank, show that the numbers of 5-17 year olds in child labour have declined by about one third since 2000, with a decrease of 47 million between 2008 and 2012.
But despite this encouraging progress, nearly 11 per cent of children aged 5 to 17 were still at work around the world in 2012, and more than half were in hazardous work.
The good news is that this serious violation of child rights is preventable, not inevitable. Effective action against child labour requires looking at child labour through a broad lens, understanding the underlying causes of child labour and addressing their interconnectedness.
Not all work done by children should be targeted for elimination. Many children work to help their families in ways that are neither harmful nor exploitative. But millions of others are put to work in ways that interfere with their education, drain their childhood of joy and crush their right to normal physical and mental development.
Work to help the family that is not exploitative can provide children with skills and experience and helping to prepare them as productive members of society.
Child labour becomes unacceptable when it is hazardous, when it interferes with the child's education or when it is likely to harm the child's health or, “physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” In many instances, commonly held beliefs that girls are better off working at home can deny them their right to an education simply because they are girls.
Often, children involved in child labour are exposed to health hazards and to physical danger, their development is threatened, and they are subjected to exploitation.
In its most extreme forms, child labour involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to live and work on the streets of large cities. The worst forms of child labour include all forms of slavery, children associated with armed forces and groups, children forced into prostitution, and the use of children for illicit activities, especially drug trafficking, as well as hazardous work.
Child labour is caused by a combination of factors, including poverty, social norms condoning it, lack of decent work opportunities for adults, migration, and emergencies such as conflicts and natural disasters.
Prevention comes through integrated approaches that simultaneously address poverty and inequity, improve access to and quality of education, highlight social protection measures for children and their families, and mobilize public support for respecting children’s rights.
What needs to be done?
Eliminating child labour requires determined and coordinated action, including government efforts, partnered with educational institutions, teachers’ organizations, NGOs, mass media and community-based organizations, along with support from trade unions and employers’ organizations.
While the first task is to ensure effective legislation, this alone is not sufficient. Many countries already prohibit child labour, and a growing number are establishing systems to monitor the situation and enforce the laws.
Probably the most effective strategy is to prevent children labour in the first place and the most powerful tool to do this is through increasing access to quality education. In general, starting work usually means leaving school. However, the lack of quality education or violence in and around schools can push children into work.
No single policy will, by itself, end child labour. Evidence has shown that targeted action that simultaneously increases access to quality education and addresses legislation, public services, social protection and the functioning of labour markets yields high returns in the fight against child labour, including its worst forms.
The 2010 Roadmap for Achieving the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour by 2016, further endorsed by the 2013 Brasilia Declaration on Child Labour, recognizes that governments have the primary responsibility for enforcing the right to education for all children, and the elimination of the worst forms of child labour. It also recognizes that social partners, civil society, and international organizations have important roles to play in promoting and supporting action to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.
At the global level, United Nations agencies and other child protection actors should consistently promote and address child labour in the context of child protection systems, which take into account the full range of vulnerabilities and protection concerns of the child.
In the field of data collection and measurement, they should collaborate on in-depth research of specific forms of child labour, research in more detail the specifics of public policy interventions, and mobilize government support for research and data improvement. There is also a need to develop a global standard to capture the exploitation of children in household chores, and to develop an operational definition of unpaid household services, particularly for girls, whose activities may otherwise not be captured in child labour measurements.
They should also promote awareness-raising and advocacy to transform social attitudes and to address the widespread acceptance of child domestic workers who work in the home of a third party, and the beliefs amongst employers and parents that these situations represent a protective and healthy environment for children. They should promote public-private partnerships to engage the private sector more pro-actively to assume a strong role to protect children’s rights.
National governments should strengthen the national legal framework set out by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, its three Optional Protocols on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and on a communications procedure, as well as ILO Convention No. 189 concerning decent work for domestic workers. At the domestic legislative level, they should harmonize legislation on the minimum legal age for employment with the age of compulsory schooling and in particular regulate the working and living conditions of domestic workers, with special attention to the needs of child domestic workers.
What are the benefits of action?
Ending child labour would preserve the childhoods, potential and dignity of millions of children, and protect them from harm to their physical and mental development.
Removing children from work in dangerous or unhealthy conditions protects them from situations where they might be killed, injured and/or made ill as a consequence of poor safety and health standards and working arrangements. Some injuries or ill health may result in permanent disability. Often health problems caused by working as a child may not develop or show up until the child is an adult.
An estimated 59 per cent of all child labourers (over 98 million children) work in agriculture. In many countries, this is an under-regulated sector, where health and safety laws are often less stringent, structures for social dialogue may be weak or absent, and entire industries may be exempted from regulation.
Child labour is widely used in hazardous quarrying and mining activities, typically in small-scale mines that operate within the informal economy. In these mines, children work long hours, carry heavy loads and are exposed to dangerous conditions.
A substantial number of children (around 7 per cent of all child labourers) are involved in manufacturing activities. The most hazardous conditions are often found in the thousands of small-scale operations – the suppliers of the suppliers and the suppliers to local markets. In many cases, children work at home alongside a parent or guardian who is a home-based worker.
Children employed in domestic service are often hardly visible and exposed to many hazards. It is estimated that in 2013, 15.5 million domestic workers worldwide were children aged 5-17, the vast majority of them girls.
Ending child labour can help contribute to improved education and improved health, both of which translate into economic gains. By entering the labour market prematurely, children are deprived of critical education and training that can help to lift them, their families and communities out of a cycle of poverty.