November 20 marks the Universal Child Rights Day or Universal Children’s Day. The theme for this year’s Universal Child Rights Day is “Stop Violence against Children”.
Although the number of child labourers worldwide has gone down by over one third during the 12 year period beginning 2000, there are 168 million children still in the grips of child labour, accounting for almost 11 percent of the world population. Out of this, 11.5 million children (72% of which are girls) across the world are engaged as child domestic labourers, often considered to be one of the most vulnerable of the lot. These children (mainly girls) behind the closed doors and beyond the purview of any surveillance are denied their rights to education, healthcare, freedom of movement and contact with their families, thus violating several of the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. They are subjected to gender based violence. These children are often victims of trafficking and are increasingly susceptible to commercial sexual exploitation.
The agricultural sector is another neglected area with 58.6% of child labourers engaged here. From cocoa plantations to tobacco farms, the violation of child rights continue as these children are exposed to hazardous work conditions, health threats, long hours of work, and commercial exploitation. An estimated 39.8 per cent (2,181,894) of children aged 5-14 years are working in Côte d'Ivoire.
Lack of educational opportunities and sluggish economic growth are further responsible for the vicious cycle of child labour, poverty and illiteracy that the children here get trapped in.
Sharing his thoughts about this day, Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson of Global March against Child Labour said, “Though the Universal Declaration on the Rights of the Child has been on paper for more than two decades, it still remains a mystery to the common people. This principle and notion has not been translated into our society, polity and economy. Therefore, hundreds of millions of children are completely deprived of identity and dignity of a human being, the guarantee to ensure their health, education, care, protection and participation is far beyond. In all aspects of public and political life, we shamelessly fail our children time and again. Mere words and promises are not enough. We must respond in action and that action must begin right now by you and me. ”
Taking India as a case in point, several civil society organizations have taken firm steps to reach out to the Parliamentarians for an early passage of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, which would prohibit hazardous work for all children below 18 years and also ban any employment of children below 14 years aligning the law with the Right to Education Act. A significant victory for anti-child labour organizations in India was the amendment of Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which now defines and criminalizes trafficking in persons. Penalties and punishment are stricter in case the victim is a child. Global March along with its partner organization, Bachpan Bachao Andolan had made elaborate submissions to the government appointed Justice Verma Committee as a result of which Section 370A was added to the IPC criminalizing trafficking of children and their subsequent employment. This has been a giant step towards fighting child trafficking in India and will go a long way in combating the associated violence these children fall prey to.
The key to guaranteeing a child inherent right to life lies in education. Strong law enforcement machinery, responsible businesses, conscientious consumers and a watchful civil society have become the necessary arms for protecting the rights of the children and ensuring their security, survival and development. Global March calls upon its partners worldwide to catalyze their fight against child exploitation recognizing the need of the child to be respected, loved, nurtured and educated. The day is equally a reminder for governments, policy-makers and civil society alike to collaborate and protect the rights of every child. This would bring us together towards our goal of ending violence against children.
 2011 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labour by US Department of Labor (US DOL)