Thursday, 14 June 2012

1/5th of the world’s children and counting: the increasing issue of child labour

Tuesday of this week, June 12, marked the 10th World Day Against Child Labour. As reported by the International Labour Organisation, of all the children in the world today, more than 200 million are child labourers. This equates to nearly a fifth of the world’s children and includes nearly a quarter of all children in Sub Saharan Africa where child labour is most widespread (ILO, 2003).

Poverty is one of the most common reasons for a child to start working, either of their own will or coerced by others.  Persistent economic constraint and uncertainty in many countries due to the ongoing effects of the 2008 financial crisis, have contributed to an increasing number of children working to supplement family incomes (the Guardian, 2012).

There is some criticism for the stance taken against child labour based on the argument that without that income, children and their families would be much worse off. Nevertheless, a significant proportion of all child labourers are not paid and a study conducted in Brazil revealed that former child labourers were three times more likely to need their own children to work. As this finding illustrates, child labour has an intergenerational impact as it denies children an education and consequently limits their future opportunities.

Child labour is in direct contravention of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and it is not limited to developing countries. The demand for cheap products in developed countries and responsive supply chains that use child labour spread the problem throughout the world. A 2009 report by the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labour Affairs (ILAB) listed a diverse range of goods that are produced through child labour or forced labour, many of which are commonly found in developed country homes and stores. The campaign ‘products of slavery’ has drawn on this data to produce a global map, showing where products are made using child or forced labour.

Additionally, as illustrated by the Maplecroft Child Labour Index of 2012, which evaluates the frequency and severity of reported labour incidents in 197 countries, child labour is alarmingly widespread and growing. The Index has categorised 40% of countries as extreme risk and only 32 as low risk. Described another way, 76 countries now pose extreme child labour complicity risks, more than a 10% increase from last year’s total of 68. Worsening global security, conflict and economic downturn are put forward as reasons for this increase (the Guardian, 2012).

Education is fundamental to achieving the elimination of child labour and functions both to prevent it and address it. The Brookings Institute’s Global Compact on Education report - Wikichild’s spotlight this week – reports that every year of additional education reduces a country’s chances of falling into war by 3.6%, and can add 10% to an individual’s annual earnings. Thus education mitigates the driving factors behind child labour and helps to address the intergenerational trap.

An estimated 136 million children and youth are still out of primary and lower secondary school. The majority of them are girls and a significant proportion live in Sub Saharan Africa and South West Africa. Progress has been made on improving education outcomes in recent years, driven in particular by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Education for All (EFA) movements (Brookings Institute, 2011), however as these figures illustrate more needs to be done. Days such as the World Day Against Child Labour provide the opportunity to take stock of progress, what strategies work and what is left to be done.

Hannah Chadwick
Wikichild Coordinator

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