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Updated On: Sunday, November 19 2017

Child labor a continuing problem, ILO official says

Content by: South-South News

8 October 2013, New York, USA | Brendan Pastor - Progress on eliminating child labor is gaining momentum, but an end to the practice is still out of reach. World leaders, United Nations officials and national delegates are urging stronger collective action to eliminate child labor entirely, and save an entire generation of children.

"Let us be clear. We will not meet the 2016 target and that is a collective policy failure. We have to do better," Guy Ryder, the Director-General of the International Labor Organization, said at a Conference on Child Labor in Brasilia, Brazil today.

The President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, who also opened the conference, added "the eradication of child labor requires the commitment of all nations and will only be possible with clearly coordinated and integrated policies and actions by all sectors represented at the conference – governments, employers, workers and civil society."

Despite a fall by over one-third, the number of child laborers around the world is estimated at 168 million. At the current rate of falling, however, its practice will likely not be eliminated by the 2016 deadline set out by delegates at the Global Conference.

Two major international conventions – the Minimum Age Convention of 1973 and the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention of 1999 – provided the international community with the legal and moral impetus to eliminate children in unsafe or illegal working conditions. Indeed, the UN estimates that since those conventions the total number of children in work has declined.

But Mr. Ryder suggests much more should be done, and with the "long march" against child labor entering its final phase, it would be a tragic failure of the international community to lose focus on its elimination.

The world of child labor has evolved. In Dickensian days, children would be seen operating dangerous machinery in factories or working at large-scale construction projects, with exploitation visible and publicly known. Today, many child laborers are employed in the informal economy where it is much more discreet, opaque and culturally accepted, and therefore much harder to eliminate. But exploitation and violence are no less common or severe.

A 2013 ILO report on child labor found that over 10 million boys and girls are serving in informal employment functions as housecleaners, caretakers or personal drivers. It is a practice that exists around the world regardless of its wealth or development status. And in each case, perpetuation of child labor in informal work is often acceptable based on cultural norms.

But the majority of child labor is in the agricultural industry. According to the ILO's International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor, there are nearly 100 million children working on farms and agricultural projects, mostly in Asia, the Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa.

Elimination of child labor is not just a moral or legal issue, as Mr. Ryder noted during the conference. Its existence has a broad impact on the state of work conditions for all age groups and across all industries.

"We see greater understanding that decent work for adults and youth of working age is a necessity if we are to ensure family incomes that do not rely on child labor – and in turn, that child labor undermines decent work and decent wages for adult workers," Ryder said.

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