UN agencies urge greater action to eliminate child labour by 2016

12 June 2010

With global efforts to end child labour showing mixed results, United Nations agencies are urging greater action to achieve the goal of eliminating the scourge by 2016.

The latest report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) says that if current trends continue, the 2016 target will not be reached and a renewed push to end child labour is urgently needed.

As millions of people around the world focus their attention on the football World Cup that kicked off yesterday in South Africa, ILO made an urgent appeal to “go for the goal and end child labour,” referring to the theme for this year's World Day against Child Labour.

“Across cultures and continents children will be joining in the anticipation and excitement of this global event, it will be dominating their play time and leisure time at home, in schoolyards and on the streets,” ILO Director-General Juan Somavia noted in his message for the Day, observed annually on 12 June.

“But for some 215 million child labourers – most in hazardous work – who labour long and hard instead of learning and playing, the World Cup is a world away,” he pointed out.

ILO's new estimates on child labour, released last month, present a mixed picture suggesting some progress, but also with cause for concern, according to Mr. Somavia.

On the positive side, among children aged 5-14, child labour has fallen by 10 per cent. The number of children in the same age range in hazardous work fell by 31 per cent. And there has been a 15 per cent decrease in the number of girls in child labour.

“The bottom line, however, is that overall, progress has slowed,” said the Director-General, noting that there has been an “alarming” 20 per cent increase in the 15-17 years' age group which mainly comprises children who have reached the legal working age but are working in hazardous conditions in one of the worst forms of child labour.

The situation is particularly worrying in sub-Saharan Africa where the estimates show an increase over the last four years.

“We must sharpen our focus on the goal of ending child labour and ending its worst forms by 2016,” he stated. “We must accelerate action to reach this goal.”

At the end of a two-day Global Child Labour Conference in The Hague last month, more than 450 delegates from 80 countries agreed on a so-called roadmap, which characterizes the effective abolition of child labour as a “moral necessity.” The UN-backed action plan seeks to boost global efforts to eliminate child labour by 2016.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is also calling for stepping up efforts to eliminate child labour, which it said is “both a cause and a consequence of poverty, and compromises children's education and safety.”

Dr. Susan Bissell, UNICEF's Chief of Child Protection, noted that progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in education, poverty, gender and HIV/AIDS are being systematically undermined by child labour and that no single policy will end this problem.

“Evidence has shown that an effective, coherent response to child labour requires a mix of decent work employment measures, child sensitive social protection systems and the extension of basic services to the most vulnerable,” she stated.

UNICEF called on governments and donors to increase investment in accessible and quality education, and to support the establishment of social protection measures that cover all children. It also urged the private sector to use its potential as agents of social change to ensure that children's rights are protected in their supply chains.

World Day against Child Labour events will be held in more than 60 countries involving governments, employers, workers, and UN, civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The events range from high level policy debates, to football matches and other sporting activities, public debates, media events, awareness-raising campaigns, cultural performances and other public activities.

Many of the activities will also focus new attention on the “red card campaign against child labour” initiative led by the ILO, including the publication of a resource kit produced in collaboration with FIFA that is aimed at using football to support work in child labour elimination projects.


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