Child labour, especially its worst forms, is in decline for the first time across the globe, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) claims in its new report, The end of child labour: Within reach.
The report also claims that if the current pace of the decline were to be maintained and the global momentum to stop child labour were to continue then most forms of child labour could feasibly be eliminated in 10 years. The number of child labourers fell the most in Latin America. However, there was little decline in Africa and only marginal decline in the region where it mattered most in South Asia. In Asia-Pacific, including India, the decline fell only 0.6% from 19.4% in 2000 to 18.8% in 2004. Asia-Pacific has the highest number of child labours; about 122 million. In sub-Saharan Africa, struggling to fight an HIV/Aids epidemic, figures remain unchanged, with 26% of all children in work. The dramatic decline, as explained by ILO report, appears because of countries like China, Thailand and Brazil, which have demonstrated political commitment to reduce poverty and expand education in the recent past.
"The end of child labour is within our reach," says Juan Somavia, Director-General of the ILO. "Though the fight against child labour remains a daunting challenge, we are on the right track. We can end its worst forms in a decade, while not losing sight of the ultimate goal of ending all child labour."
The report estimates that the actual number of child labourers worldwide fell by 11 per cent between 2000 and 2004, from 246 million to 218 million. More importantly, the number of children and youth aged 5-17 trapped in hazardous work decreased by 26 per cent, from 171 in 2000 to 126 million in 2004. Among younger child labourers aged 5-14, this drop in hazardous work was even more pronounced at 33 per cent.
Speaking on the ILO report Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, Chair, Global March Against Child Labour has applauded the leadership provided by Mr. Juan Somavia and ILO in the fight against child labour. Welcoming the report Mr. Satyarthi said, "It is the reaffirmation of our determination, optimism and belief that we together will be able to put an end to the age old scourge of child labour in a short time." However, Mr Satyarthi expressed his concern on the slow progress in large populated countries in South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa which have the dubious distinction of highest illiteracy rate, out of school working children and the greatest magnitude of children victim of poverty. This situation clubbed with lack of political will, weak inspectoral systems and inadequate legal measures has further faded away the thin-line between the "ordinary work" of children and "worst forms of child labour". This has led to these countries maintaining large stables of under nourished children toiling day and night like animals on the farms, fields, factories, mines and homes. He said, "We have always promoted the fastest ratification of ILO conventions on worst forms of child labour (C182) as a stepping stone towards total abolition of child labour paving a way to the realization of education for all goals. Since over 130 countries have already ratified the minimum age convention (C138) of ILO which prohibits the employment of children under age 14,it is the time to act. The present report may leave an apprehension that lead agency in abolition of child labour is squeezing its focus to certain forms of child labour only".
Mr. Satyarthi, however, felt that the initiative undertaken in the recent past to harmonize work on the cross-cutting issues of education, poverty and child labour will definitely lead to better results. He expressed optimism on the creation of the Global Task Force on Child Labour and Education. He mentioned that this aspect of the report is most promising as it is based on evidence-based research in the last few years proving that child labour perpetuates poverty. This was the position held by the NGOs all along. Investment in education is the best way forward to eliminate child labour. However, the key is to harmonize actions between various stakeholders and agencies involved in tackling cross-cutting issues. If the ILO is really able to move forward to develop and harmonize actions between the various agencies working on education for all, poverty reduction and child labour elimination, then we can still hope to eliminate child labour.
It is very important that the international financial institutions take ILO’s report seriously to comprehend the link between their lending policies and the impact of macro-economic fiscal adjustments on social sector spending, especially on education and poverty alleviation. It is critical that their lending mechanisms ensure that governments integrate practical methods to eliminate child labour and to bring child labourers from work to school into their PRSPs. This will result in the expansion of the labour market for able-bodied adults. The ILO report indicates that explicit concern with child labour is rarely found in the PRSPs. A review carried about the World Bank from August-September 2005 found that of the 70 countries that have prepared a PRSP, only 12 dealt with child labour. More disturbingly, populous countries like Egypt and Nigeria, with significant numbers of child labourers, provide no specific treatment of child labour issues in the key poverty reduction documents. Without addressing child labour elimination in PRSPs and the Dakar Education for All goals, MDGs will remain a distant dream. The fight against child labour has only intensified now. Mr. Satyarthi has further added that it is not only the worst forms of child labour which causes illiteracy, poverty and adult unemployment but any form of child labour causes and perpetuates these social problems. It would be very useful in the global fight against child labour that ILO proactively advances its arguments based on continued finding of evidence that the investment on elimination of child labour and replacing it with universal education exceed costs by a ratio of 6.7 to 1.