world day against child labour: challenges and long-term goals

June 12 is the World Day Against Child Labour. One in 10 of all children worldwide are in child labour. While it is true that this statistic has declined by 94 million since 2000, the rate of reduction has slowed by two-thirds in recent years, with the pandemic being one of the main reasons.


Children obviously do not want to work. They do it for several reasons: their survival depends on it; their parents don’t have suitable jobs; social protection is weak; adults take advantage of their vulnerability; or because of deeply rooted customs and traditions.


Child labour hurts children physically and mentally. Furthermore, it compromises their education, restricting their rights and limiting their future opportunities, leading to vicious intergenerational cycles of poverty and child labour.


Worldwide, there are 152 million children who are victims of child labour. Regarding the economic sectors, in first place is agriculture (71%), which includes fishing, forestry, livestock and aquaculture; 17% work in the service sector; and 12% in the industrial sector, particularly mining.


2021: International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour


The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has unanimously adopted a resolution declaring 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. The resolution highlights the member States’ commitments “to take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.”


At the beginning of the 21st century, a substantial progress has been achieved, largely because of intense advocacy and national mobilization backed by legislative and practical action. Between 2000 and 2016 alone, there was a 38 % decrease in child labour globally.


The situation in Latin America and the Caribbean


Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is neutralizing the efforts made by the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to meet the goal of eliminating child labour by 2025, as the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF have warned.


In a region hard hit by the pandemic, prolonged school closings and increasing poverty among the most vulnerable families push more children in Latin America and the Caribbean into child labour.


Despite the decrease in child labour in the region by 2.3 million between 2016 and 2020, it is estimated that the crisis caused by the pandemic could reverse this positive trend.


The number of children in low-income households increased as a result of the loss of employment and income of the families, and they may turn to child labour as a survival mechanism. According to the ILO and ECLAC, this practice could increase between 1 and 3 percentage points, that is, between 100,000 and 326,000 more children.


On this World Day Against Child Labour, the ILO and UNICEF call for increased spending on public services such as social protection; universal access to free, good-quality education and safe reopening of schools; decent work for adults and youth of legal working age; that child labour in agriculture receive greater attention; that laws are enacted that better protect children, that they are effectively enforced, and that comprehensive child protection systems are put in place where they do not exist.


By: Juan Carlos Ugarelli

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