Number of child labourers worldwide dips but challenges remain: UN agency

4 May 2006
ILO's Maria Arteta briefs on report

Child labour, especially in its worst forms, is in decline for the first time across the globe, the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) said today in a report which cautions that despite welcome progress, the fight against the scourge is still a “daunting challenge” and much remains to be done.

The ILO report, entitled The end of child labour: Within reach, also says that if the current pace of the decline were to be maintained and the global momentum to stop child labour continued, child labour could feasibly be eliminated, in most of its worst forms, in 10 years.

“The fight against child labour in the world continues to be a daunting challenge, but this Global Report provides evidence that a breakthrough could be in the making,” ILO Director-General Juan Somavia says in a preface to the 74-page document.

“We are on the right track. We can end its worst forms in a decade, while

not losing sight of the ultimate goal of ending all child labour. Clearly, there is still much to be done.”

The new report says the actual number of child labourers worldwide fell by 11 per cent between 2000 and 2004, from 246 million to 218 million, highlighting also that the number of children and youth aged 5 to 17 trapped in hazardous work decreased by 26 per cent, dropping to 126 million in 2004 from 171 million in the previous estimate.

This new report attributed the reduction in child labour to increased political will and awareness and also concrete action, particularly in the field of poverty reduction and mass education that has led to a "worldwide movement against child labour," the agency said in a news release.

Through its International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), the ILO assists in building national capacity to deal with the problem and providing policy advice. In addition, through direct action, the Programme over the past decade has reached some 5 million children.

However despite the cautious optimism of the new report, it also highlights the challenges ahead and the ILO’s Coordinator for Child Labour Programmes in Latin America acknowledged that progress worldwide in dealing with child labour had been uneven.

“Latin America and the Caribbean have made the biggest progress, and Asia and the Pacific the absolute number of economically active children has also declined. In Africa, there is a decline in the incidence of child labour…but there has been an absolute increase in the number of [African] children,” Maria Arteta, told the press in New York, referring to the latest figures compared to those in the previous ILO report four years earlier.

The latest document also shows that with 26 per cent of the child population, or almost 50 million working children, the sub-Saharan African region has the highest proportion of children engaged in economic activities of any region in the world.

“As the report states, economic growth alone will not end child labour; countries need to make the right policy choices, choices that invest in education and invest in decreasing inequity,” Ms. Arteta said.

“There’s a lot to be done, there are still over 200 million children working, but we now know that if we focus on reducing inequity, mass education and if we work together – donors, the international community, but more important the governments themselves – we can make a difference.”


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