Welcome to the United Nations. It's your world.

Resources for Speakers on Global Issues

Child Labour

Making Progress

Substantial progress has been made in the struggle against child labour.  The international community has identified child labour as a significant impediment to the realization of children’s rights, national development and the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly those related to poverty alleviation, education, gender equality and HIV/AIDS. 

In November 2006, the International Labour Organization (ILO) Constituents of 183 Member States set the goal to eliminate all worst forms of child labour by 2016.

The 2010 ILO Global Report Accelerating action against child labour notes that child labour continues to decline, but that the rate of reduction has slowed.  There was a decline of 3% between 2004 and 2008, compared with a 10% decrease between 2000 and 2004.

There are still 215 million children in child labour compared to 222 million in 2006, with 115 million children exposed to its worst forms.  While the global movement has achieved much progress in reducing the incidence of child labour, efforts must be stepped up if the goal of a world free of the worst forms of child labour by 2016 is to be reached.

Indifference and denial are no longer possible.  The commitment of countries is reflected in the high ratification of the Minimum Age Convention 1973 (No. 138) (156 countries) and the very rapid ratification of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention 1999 (No. 182) (173 countries).  The unprecedented pace of ratification of these two fundamental ILO Conventions on child labour reflects the development of an overwhelming consensus that child labour is a major developmental and human rights issue.

Boys and girls sifting through garbage in search of cashworthy items in Sao Paulo.

Boys and girls sifting through garbage in search of cashworthy items in Sao Paulo.

The impetus for action was given a boost at the Global Child Labour Conference, organized by the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, in close collaboration with the ILO (and in cooperation with UNICEF and the World Bank), in The Hague in May 2010 where more than 500 delegates from 97 countries agreed on a Roadmap aimed at “substantially increasing” global efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour by 2016.  The Roadmap builds on the knowledge and experience of those involved in the fight against child labour and provides strategic direction for future work.  It proposes priority actions for ways to accelerate action and to increase collaboration.  The Roadmap spells out that governments have primary responsibility for eliminating the worst forms of child labour, and that the ILO social partners (employers’ and workers’ organizations), civil society and international organizations have supporting roles. It affirms that the fight against child labour can be won with sound policy choices and substantial national and international resource commitments.  

Partnerships are crucial to make progress towards the elimination of child labour.  The ILO, through its International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour, is widely recognized as the UN agency which takes the lead in the fight against child labour. However, many other UN agencies, in particular UNICEF, work in this area and ILO/IPEC is increasingly part of wider networks that aim to promote concern with child labour as part of the “Delivering as One” concept in the UN system.  IPEC supports a variety of inter-agency initiatives covering research (Understanding Children’s Work programme), education (Global Task Force on Child Labour and Education For All), agriculture (International Partnership for Cooperation on Child Labour in Agriculture) and child trafficking (UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking).  Given the complementary and mutually supportive roles, there has been a particular evolving partnership with UNICEF that was reinforced by a heads of agency agreement in October 2006.  IPEC also joins forces with other groups and organizations such as non-governmental organizations, parliamentarians, educational, research and arts institutions and the media.