Countries agree on UN-backed roadmap to curb child labour

Hundreds of families with young children work and live in these brickyards near Islamabad – often under conditions of bonded labour. Photo: ILO/Crozet M.

12 May 2010 – With more than 200 million children around the world working at the expense of their future, a new United Nations-backed action plan seeks to ramp up global action to stamp out the scourge by 2016.

At the end of a two-day Global Child Labour Conference in The Hague yesterday, more than 450 delegates from 80 countries agreed on a so-called roadmap, which characterizes the effective abolition of child labour as a “moral necessity.”

The programme also emphasizes that “government responsibility should be assumed at the highest level and with the best interests of children in mind taking into consideration the views of children and their families, and should include due attention to the most vulnerable children and the conditions that create their vulnerability.”

As such, authorities should consider the impact of policies on the worst forms of child labour by taking in account gender and age, among other measures, it said.

The UN International Labour Organization (ILO), which took part in the conference which wrapped up yesterday, has defined the worst forms of child labour as all forms of slavery, including child trafficking and use of children in armed conflict; child prostitution; and the use of children in illicit activities, including drug production.

It also comprises hazardous work, which is classified as negatively impacting a child’s safety, health and moral development. Hazardous work conditions include night work, long hours and exposure to physical, psychological or sexual abuse.

The discussions this week in The Hague “clearly show that if we stick to business as usual, the goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016 will simply be missed,” said ILO Executive Director Kari Tapiola.

A new ILO study issued over the weekend warned that efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour are waning and called for a “re-energized” global campaign to end the scourge.

The Global Report on Child Labour assessed progress made so far and highlighted the challenges that remain if the goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by the target date of 2016 is to be achieved.

It noted a “slowing down of the global pace of reduction” – with the number of child labourers worldwide declining from 222 million to 215 million, or 3 per cent, from 2004 to 2008.

“Progress is uneven: neither fast enough nor comprehensive enough to reach the goals that we have set,” said Juan Somavia, ILO Director-General.

“New and large-scale efforts are needed. The situation calls for a re-energized campaign against child labour. We must scale up action and move into a higher gear.”

The report also expressed concern that the global economic crisis could “further brake” progress toward the goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016.

“The economic downturn cannot become an excuse for diminished ambition and inaction. Instead it offers the opportunity to implement the policy measures that work for people, for recovery and for sustainable development,” said Mr. Somavia.

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