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6 Steps to Zeroing Out Child Labour Globally

By Guest Author June 12, 2022

Child labour is a violation of every child’s right to a childhood.

When children can not achieve their full potential, it tears at a countries’ social fabric and directly diminishes its economic growth.

And even as these dire consequences are known, child labour has increased globally to 160 million. This means that every one in 10 children age five and over in the world today are trapped in child labour. 70% of all child labour takes place in the agriculture sector. Right now there are six steps that can be taken to end child labor and to ensure a brighter, more fulfilling future for all countries.

1. Making Decent Work a Reality for Adults and Youth

Governments should embrace internationally recognised fundamental rights at work including ending forced labour, discrimination at work, respecting workers’ right to freely choose representation and ensuring safe and healthy working conditions. These core rights are increasingly being used in free trade agreements, due diligence directives and codes of conduct to spur change.

Decent work requires an adequate minimum wage based on dialogue and collective bargaining between workers’ organisations and employers. It also requires formalizing the informal economy and extending the coverage of labour law for protection to those who are the most vulnerable.

Governments also need to create an enabling environment for sustainable enterprises to prosper, invest and create decent work opportunities for all women and men who are above the minimum age for work.

2. Ending Child Labour in Agriculture

Since child labour exists disproportionately in the agricultural sector, an investment strategy for rural areas focused on increasing access to finance and credit is critical. Facilitating smallholder farmers’ access to financial markets enables them to hedge against risks they face so they can invest in more profitable entrepreneurial activities.

The building of coalitions between Ministries of Agriculture, Labour Inspectors with employers’ organizations and workers’ organizations is essential for ongoing dialogue and collaboration in developing national policies.

This should include improving labour conditions, adopting safe agricultural practices to reduce work-related hazards and exposure to harmful substances as well as transitioning to more sustainable technologies.

Countries should also strengthen agricultural labour markets data collection and information systems and create decent work opportunities for youth, women and men through innovative vocational training in agri-food production and processing services.

3. Enhancing Data-Driven Policies and Programmatic Responses

The strengthening of regular data collection and management systems – with disaggregated data by sex and age – on child labour in agriculture, mining, domestic work, the service sector, and manufacturing sectors is critical to better policies and programmes.

Developing gender-sensitive responses such as universal access to birth registration, adequate nutrition, accessible and affordable quality childcare, child protection and quality education services should be a priority.

This data and its analysis can help governments increase the capacity of law enforcement bodies, labour inspectorates, agricultural extension services, child protection and education services to investigate, prevent and mediate child labour and forced labour situations.

A special focus is also needed to end child labour in supply chains by promoting and supporting transparency, due diligence and remediation in private and public supply chains and procurement policies.

4. Realizing Children’s Right to Education

Eliminating barriers to quality, compulsory education for girls and boys, such as distance, cost of education, improving learning outcomes, safety and gender-based violence and exploitation can boost school enrolment.

The provision of relevant training, skills development and vocational education for girls and boys above the minimum age for employment, including quality apprenticeships, skills matching and school-to-work transitions help better align applicants with labour market needs and opportunities.

5. Achieving Universal Access to Social Protection

Governments need to progressively extend access to comprehensive, adequate, sustainable, and inclusive social protection measures to their populations throughout their lives to prevent poverty, reduce inequality and combat social exclusion.

These measures include access to health care, family allowances, unemployment benefits, old age and disability pensions, and maternity benefits, among others, working in tandem with services, including child, health and long-term care services.

These should target and increase access of communities depending on agriculture for their livelihoods to social and agricultural insurances as well as expanding child labour monitoring systems, linked to the provision of social protection services.

6. Increasing Financing and International Cooperation

The range of benefits and services listed above need to be paid for by governments and requires better domestic resource mobilization to develop and adequately fund national action plans, improve statistics and other data collection on child labour, and integrating child labour concerns into relevant national development policies and plans.

Coordination will be key to the success of this approach requiring policy coherence, particularly between social, trade, agricultural, financial, labour, economic, education and training and environmental policies, in pursuit of a human-centred approach to a future of work free of child labour and forced labour.

It will also require strengthening cross-sectoral cooperation to mainstream child labour elimination into other international priorities, notably climate change, environmental protection, hunger eradication, poverty reduction, addressing inequalities, decent jobs, clean energy, digitalisation, water and sanitation, peacekeeping and peacebuilding, migration, youth empowerment, and gender equality.

And finally, enhancing international cooperation to eliminate child labour and forced labour among indigenous and tribal peoples, minority groups, migrant populations and other vulnerable groups, and to mobilize national and regional responses to eliminate the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

The elimination of child labour can not be achieved by inaction nor by legislating it away. It is a complex and sadly, deeply rooted development challenge. Child labour is largely driven by poverty and a lack of decent work opportunities for parents and communities mired in abject poverty.

However, the road to the elimination of child labour also leads to the realization of decent work and social justice which will go very far in ensuring that other deeply embedded social and economic development challenges are also being tackled. These dividends will certainly be enjoyed by the wider community of nations and future ready next generation of leaders.

About the Author

Kevin Cassidy, Director and Representative to Bretton Woods and Multilateral Organizations ILO Office for the United States and CanadaKevin Cassidy
Director and Representative to Bretton Woods and Multilateral Organizations ILO Office for the United States and Canada
Kevin Cassidy, with nearly 4 decades of international development experience, is currently the Director and Representative to the Bretton Woods and Multilateral Organizations for the International Labour Organization (ILO) Office for the United States.