More than half of the world’s estimated 215 million child labourers are engaged in hazardous work which puts them risk of injury, illness or death, the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) said in a new report unveiled today.
The report, “Children in hazardous work: what we know, what we need to do,” cites studies from both industrialised and developing countries that indicate that a child labourer suffers a work-related accident, illness or psychological trauma every minute.
The document, released as the UN prepared to mark the World Day against Child Labour, which falls on Sunday, says that although the overall number of children aged 5 to 17 in hazardous work declined between 2004 and 2008, child workers in the 15-to-17 age bracket rose by 20 per cent during the same period, from 52 million to 62 million.
“Governments, employers and workers must act together to give strong leadership in shaping and implementing the policies and action that can end child labour. The persistence of child labour is a clear indictment of the prevailing model of growth. Tackling work that jeopardizes the safety, health or morals of children must be a common and urgent priority,” said Mr. Somavia.
The ILO Global Report on child labour warned last year that efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour were slowing down and expressed concern that the global economic crisis could halt progress toward the goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016.
The new report calls for fresh efforts to ensure that all children remain in education institutions at least until the minimum age of employment. It urges countries to prepare lists of hazardous work as required by ILO child labour conventions.
According to the report, urgent action is required to tackle hazardous work by children who have attained the minimum working age, but may be at risk in the workplace, and calls for training and awareness to ensure that they are informed on risks, rights and responsibilities in the workplace.
The study notes that the problem of children in hazardous work is not confined to developing countries. Evidence from the United States and Europe also shows the high vulnerability of youth to workplace accidents.
The ILO report concludes that while there is a need to strengthen workplace safety and health for all workers, specific safeguards for adolescents between the minimum age of employment and the age of 18 are needed.
The measures need to be part of a comprehensive approach in which employer and worker organizations and labour departments have particularly critical role to play.
So far 173 of the ILO’s 183 Member States have committed themselves to tackling hazardous work by children “as a matter of urgency” by ratifying the ILO convention on the worst forms of child labour.
In a statement on the occasion of the Day, the independent UN expert on contemporary forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, said the annual observance draws attention to the alarming extent of hazardous child labour and advocates for change.
“On this day, we must reiterate our profound commitment to the global effort to achieve the complete elimination of the worst forms of child labour, which includes hazardous child labour, by 2016,” said Ms. Shahinian.
“Poverty, conflict and harmful traditional practices are some of the main causes for children working. Child labour is in great demand because it is cheap, and because children are naturally more docile, easier to discipline than adults, and too frightened to complain.”
The expert, who reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, stressed that the protection of children’s rights should be a high priority for Governments, which have the primary responsibility to provide families and communities with alternative livelihoods, access to social protection and basic services.