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Greater access to education key to combating child labour – UN

Greater access to education key to combating child labour – UN

The United Nations is urging improved access to education as the right response to address the plight of the estimated 165 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 worldwide who are involved in child labour.

“Despite global progress in many areas, it is unacceptable that so many children must still work for their survival and that of their families,” Juan Somavia, Director-General of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), said today on the occasion of the World Day Against Child Labour.

The ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) says that of some 218 million child labourers around the world, millions are either denied educational opportunities that would give them a better future or must balance work with education.

“For too many children, particularly children of poor families across the world, the right to education remains an abstract concept, far from the reality of daily life,” Mr. Somavia stated.

He noted that more than 70 million primary school-aged children are not enrolled in school. Many of these and other out-of-school children start working at an early age, often well below the minimum age of employment. And when a family has to make a choice between sending either a boy or girl to school, it is often the girl who loses out.

“Our challenge is to offer hope to the child labourers of the world by making their right a reality, ensuring that they have quality education and training which can lead them towards a future of decent work,” he said.

“This is essential to break the cycle of child labour and poverty. And it is a sound investment for individuals and society.”

To tackle child labour, ILO is urging governments to provide education for all children at least to the minimum age of employment, as well as education policies that reach out to child labourers and other excluded groups.

In addition, the agency is calling for properly resourced quality education and skills training, and education for all children and decent work for adults.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also sees education as the best weapon in the global fight against child labour and says recent data has provided hope. The number of children out of school has dropped from 115 million in 2002 to 93 million in 2006.

The agency says part of this success has come from new initiatives to bring down the cost of schooling, making it more accessible to more children, including the School Fee Abolition Initiative (SFAI) launched by UNICEF and the World Bank in 2005 to support countries in implementing school fee abolition policies.

The annual World Day is being marked in some 60 countries with events ranging from awareness-raising campaigns and artistic performances to competitions and photo exhibitions on child labour.