A Staggering 160 Million Are Victims of Child Labour
By Simone Galimberti*
community commemorates World Day Against Child Labour on June 12
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Jun 11 2021 (IPS) – Among the many
daunting issues leaders of the G7 will have to discuss in their upcoming summit
in idyllic Cornwall on June 11-13, child labour won’t be on the official
Yet the latest figures jointly released by ILO and UNICEF in
occasion of the upcoming World Day Against Child Labour on 12th June are depicting a
very worrying scenario with unprecedented rise of children engaged in work.
“Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road
forward”, the latest major publication on the issue, shows that there are now
160 million children in child labour, a rise of 8.4 million in the last four
years, a very worrying, though unsurprising finding that is a major blow to the
gains of the last two decades.
That’s why it is an imperative that the leaders of the G7
take a stand against this global plague, ensuring that any global strategy
focused on “building forward better” must also enlist the fight against child
exploitation as a top priority within a broader strategy to reset global
At legislative levels there are some encouraging
developments that could pave the way for an holistic approach built on the
Agenda 2030 that will create a global momentum around global target 8.7 of the
Sustainable Development Goals.
The target, after which a global coalition
against child labour is named, focuses on
“taking immediate and
effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human
trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of child labour,
including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour
in all its forms”.
The good news is that the European Commission, the executive
branch of the European Union, is expected to come up with a wide-ranging reform
package on a mandatory human rights due diligence by the end of year though
there is fear this might be further delayed.
Though future negotiations within the complex
decision-making system of the EU might water down the final legislation, there
is no doubt that the expectations are so high and the level of ambition
expected to be found in the final document so large that half cooked measures
won’t be accepted by the Parliament whose consent is mandatory for the
legislation to be approved.
Amid also news that the G7 is close to a deal on a global
taxation agreement that will affect the major world corporations, we might
assume that the best and most effective way to tackle child labour “head on” is
to force corporates to step up their commitment towards human rights.
Probably this is the most pragmatic manner from a western’s
point of view to have child labour again at the center of the global agenda.
Given the almost universal discontent against big business
all over the world, this is also perhaps the safest bet to ensure that G7 and
G20 nations will not overlook the fight against child labour from their
While it is vital that the global leaders meeting over the
weekend in a beautiful setting in Cornwall to take a stand on the issue, yet we
should not neglect that, most of the times, child labour is a phenomenon
thriving out of an enabling environment in the developing world, and in the
worst cases, it is almost an intrinsic element of the local fabric.
Oftentimes working children are recruited by small, often
informal micro businesses in the developing world, economic entities that are
not even under the purview of local tax offices nor those of the mostly
ineffective Labour authorities in charge of checking on child labour.
The ILO-UNICEF joint report is clear on this point when it
explains that it is “much more common in rural areas with 122.7 million rural
children in child labour compared to 37.3 million urban children where children
are involved in agriculture related work.
To confirm the trend, according to the report, the “largest
share of child labour takes place within families with “72 per cent of all
child labour and 83 per cent of child labour among children aged 5 to 11 occurs
within families, primarily on family farms or in family microenterprises.”
These insights prove how challenging the fight against child
labour has always been in the last two decades despite very encouraging
Exercising pressures on big corporations alone won’t suffice
also because many of the developing countries with high number of working
children are not attractive enough to host manufacturing sites that elsewhere
are technically run by local contractors often in breach of the most basic
human rights provisions.
To really build forward better, G7 and the G20 need to go
well beyond a much-needed equitable distribution and production of vaccines, a
mammoth task itself.
They need to come up with ambitious plans that will mobilize
massive amounts of resources in unprecedented figures that will help developing
nations not only to transit towards a net zero future but doing so by also
ensuring a far greater equity in the national development outcomes pursued by
developing nations that must be inclusive of the most vulnerable segments of
It means dealing with child labour not as a standing alone
problem but as a part of a bigger strategy able to close the faulting lines so
common in many emerging nations, like weak public health and poor education,
lack of dignified job opportunities, all scars of remarkable but unfair
economic pre-pandemic growths that proved to be unable to truly trickle down.
World leaders should go tough on billionaires and uncanny
global corporations but at the same time they should remember the fight against
child labour is a priority and an essential pillar to build a more equitable
A way for them to start would be to come up with an urgent
plan of action to back those nations in the Pathfinders
Initiative, countries who showed in the past commitment against child
labour but whose efforts are now at risk of a brutal reversal.
Eliminating child labour by 2025 might be out of reality but
taking meaningful actions in that direction now is not.
*The Author, Co-Founder
of ENGAGE, a not-for-profit NGO in Nepal, writes on volunteerism, social
inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve
people’s lives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org