Governments, UN organisations and business leaders have joined forces in a race against time to hit a deadline to eliminate child labour across the world within three years.
The 2025 deadline was set by the UN General Assembly in 2019. But there is increasing concern that it will be missed by a considerable margin.
The alarm was raised last year when the International Labor Organisation (ILO) and UNICEF warned that progress to end child labour had 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.
This prompted over 1000 delegates attending a UN global conference in May this year to approve the Durban Call to Action, setting out a series of strong commitments to end child labour.
Urgent action needed says business
In a separate initiative, also in May, UNICEF and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a coalition of 200 CEOs of major global corporations, issued a joint call for urgent action.
“The world is failing on its collective commitment to eliminate child labour in all forms by 2025, even though we have clear evidence on how to reach our goal. This target is now more urgent than ever. “ they said in a joint report.
The Durban communique warned that “the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflicts, and food, humanitarian and environmental crises threaten to reverse years of progress against child labour”.
Delegates committed to:
- “Strengthen the prevention and elimination of all forms of child labour, including forced labour, modern slavery and people trafficking, and the protection of survivors through data-driven and survivor-informed policy and programmatic responses.”
- Ensure children have “universal access to free, compulsory, quality, equitable and inclusive education and training”.
- “Achieve universal access to social protection.”
- “Increase financing and international cooperation for the elimination of child labour and forced labour.”
Child labour is increasing
The number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide – up 8.4 million children – with millions more at risk due to the impacts of COVID-19, according to the ILO-UNICEF report Child Labour: global estimates 2022, trends and the road forward.
It said that for the first time in 20 years there had been a significant rise in the number of children aged 5 to 11 years in child labour, who now account for just over half of the total global figure. The number of children aged 5 to 17 years in hazardous work – defined as work that is likely to harm their health, safety or morals – has risen by 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016.
“The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “We are at a pivotal moment and much depends on how we respond.”
Losing ground says UN
“We are losing ground in the fight against child labour”, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore admitted:
“We urge governments and international development banks to prioritise investments in programmes that can get children out of the workforce and back into school, and in social protection programmes that can help families avoid making this choice in the first place.”
The press release also gives the following key findings summary:
- “The agriculture sector accounts for 70 per cent of children in child labour followed by 20 per cent in services and 10 per cent in industry.
- Nearly 28 per cent of children aged 5-11 and 35 per cent of children aged 12-14 in child labour are out of school.
- Child labour is more prevalent among boys than girls at every age.
- The prevalence of child labour in rural areas (14 per cent) is close to three times higher than in urban areas (5 per cent)”.
In conclusion, the ILO and UNICEF called for the following actions to address child labour:
- “Adequate social protection for all, including universal child benefits.
- Increased spending on free, good-quality schooling 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.
- Investment in child protection systems, agricultural development, rural public services, infrastructure and livelihoods.”
Business has a lead role
Demanding urgent prevention and mitigation measures. UNICEF-WBCSD report Tackling Child Labor said:
“Are governments and businesses working together in synergy? Is the private sector addressing the root causes of child labor, including by guaranteeing decent work and adequate wages for adults? How can we meaningfully serve those in the informal economy who are often the most vulnerable? And how can we combat harmful gender norms and stereotypes, and ensure access for women and girls to quality education and skills training?
“We must accelerate global efforts to end the practice of child labor once and for all.
“Success hinges firmly on reinforcing systems of prevention that ensure child labour does not occur in the first place. We must ensure that the necessary laws and regulations are in place and enforced to safeguard the rights of children.
“Eliminating child labour in all its forms by 2025 is a more ambitious task than ever. This vital work involves all of us – including businesses. As powerful change agents, there is a unique and important role for CEOs and their corporations to play in building the world we want for children.
“The challenge requires a comprehensive, immediate and unified business response. Business can lead, implement and inspire holistic approaches to prevent child labour, including integrating child rights into core business operations, adopting zero-tolerance approaches, investing in the capacity of suppliers and partners throughout the supply chain to address root causes and supporting working parents with gender-sensitive family-friendly policies.
“Businesses should also advocate enabling legal and regulatory frameworks, promoting accessibility of quality education, and strengthen data collection and transparency to make child labour visible and shameful.”