This year’s World Day Against Child Labour is the first World Day since the universal ratification of the UN’s International Labour Organisation’s Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, and takes place at a time when the COVID-19 crisis threatens to reverse years of progress in tackling the problem. This Day falls each year on June 12 and is observed to raise awareness of the plight of child labourers world-wide. Hundreds of millions of girls and boys around the world are affected. Child labour is a problem in both developing and industrialized countries.
What is child labour
Not all work done by children should be classified as child labour that is to be targeted for elimination. Children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling, is generally regarded as being something positive. This includes activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. These kinds of activities contribute to children’s development and to the welfare of their families; they provide them with skills and experience, and help to prepare them to be productive members of society during their adult life.
The term “child labour” is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that: is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and/or interferes with their schooling by: depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.
Whether or not particular forms of “work” can be called “child labour” depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is performed, and the objectives pursued by individual countries. The answer varies from country to country, as well as among sectors within countries.
The reality today
The number of children forced into child labour has risen to 160 million, an increase of 8.4 million children in the last 4 years. Millions more are at risk of being drawn into it due to the impacts of Covid-19.
These figures in a joint report by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) and the UN’s children’s fund, UNICEF, have been released in view of World Day Against Child Labour on June 12. In the new report entitled “Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward”, the two agencies warn that progress to end child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the previous downward trend that saw child labour fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016. (See link to full report at end of the page).
The report warns that globally, 9 million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic. A simulation model shows that this number could rise to 46 million if they don’t have access to critical social protection coverage.
Additional economic shocks and school closures caused by Covid-19 mean that children already in child labour may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions, while many more may be forced into the worst forms of child labour due to loss of jobs and income among vulnerable families.
Key results from the 2020 global estimates include:
- Involvement in child labour is higher for boys than girls at all ages.
- Among all boys, 11.2 per cent are in child labour compared to 7.8 per cent of all girls.
- In absolute numbers, boys in child labour outnumber girls by 34 million.
- When the definition of child labour expands to include household chores for 21 hours or more each week, the gender gap in prevalence among boys and girls aged 5 to 14 is reduced by almost half.
- Child labour is much more common in rural areas.
- There are 122.7 million rural children in child labour compared to 37.3 million urban children.
- More than 70 per cent of all children in child labour, 112 million children in total, are in agriculture, mainly in subsistence and commercial farming and herding livestock.
- 72 per cent of all child labour, and 83 per cent of child labour among children aged 5 to 11 occurs within families, primarily on family farms or in family microenterprises.
- Almost half of child labour happens in Africa (72 million children), followed by Asia and the Pacific (62 million).
Child labour is frequently associated with children being out of school. A large share of younger children in child labour are excluded from school despite falling within the age range for compulsory education. More than a quarter of children aged 5 to 11 and over a third of children aged 12 to 14 who are in child labour are out of school.
Action Pledges to Stop Child Labour
To stem the surge in child labour, the ILO and UNICEF are calling for:
- Adequate social protection for all, including universal child benefits.
- Increased spending on quality education, and getting all children back into school – including children who were out of school before COVID-19.
- Promotion of decent work for adults, so families don’t have to resort to children helping to generate family income.
- An end to harmful gender norms and discrimination that influence child labour.
- Investment in child protection systems, agricultural development, rural public services, infrastructure and livelihoods.
Everyone can make a difference; individuals can make personal choices.
For example, individuals can consume responsibly, raise funds and demand that their government act. Working together, individuals have the power to transform the International Year into a sustained global movement for children. The time has come to move from commitments to action.
We have four years to achieve SDG Target 8.7. The International Year is an opportunity to build on previous efforts and inspire new ones. Alliance 8.7 invites stakeholders at all levels – regional, national, organizational and individuals – to identify significant and meaningful actions you can take in 2021.
Stakeholders from all over the world have also pledged actions. You can browse through the initiatives partners with ILO and UNICEF have planned for this year, from global conferences to national surveys. See Stakeholders – International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour (dev-alliancewp.pantheonsite.io)
All pledges are in line with our three-pillar strategy: Act. Inspire. Scale up.
Note: Material in these links have been used to inform the content of the News piece appearing here.
To access full report: Report: Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward (ilo.org)