Geneva, 10th June 2011: To coincide with the 2011 World Day Against Child Labour on 12 June and its theme of hazardous work, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has launched a new report on the issue which underscores what is already known about hazardous child labour, what can be done to tackle this issue and what must be done given the urgency of the situation. Around 115 million of the world’s 215 million child labourers are involved in hazardous work and, on 12 June this year, the ILO has called for urgent action to halt the practice.
The report, “Children in hazardous work: what we know, what we need to do”, cites studies from both industrialised and developing countries indicating that every minute of every day, a child labourer somewhere in the world suffers a work-related accident, illness or psychological trauma.
The report also says that although the overall number of children aged 5 to 17 in hazardous work declined between 2004 and 2008, the number aged 15-17 actually increased by 20 per cent during the same period, from 52 million to 62 million.
ILO Director-General calls for prioritisation of child labour
Speaking during the commemoration of the World Day, ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said: “Despite important progress over the last decade, the number of children in child labour worldwide – and particularly in hazardous work – remains high … The persistence of child labour is a clear indictment of the prevailing model of growth. Tackling work that jeopardises the safety, health or morals of children must be a common and urgent priority.”
The ILO, Global March and others involved in tackling child labour have been sounding the warning bell for some time that efforts to eliminate child labour have been slowing down. There is a very real concern that the global economic crisis is further undermining progress toward the goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016, not only because of the impact of the crisis on development funding, but also because the fallout is hitting developing economies hard and worsening situations of poverty, discrimination and social exclusion .As always in these instances, it is the vulnerable and marginalised who suffer most, particularly children.
Occupational safety and health for young workers
The report acts as a further wake-up call for the international community, calling for a renewed effort for countries to target child labour through effective public service policies and programmes, particularly education. The ILO Child Labour Conventions are very clear on interventions by ratifying governments and the roles and responsibilities of the social partners and civil society. Not only does this involve ensuring that children below the minimum age of employment are not working and are in school, but that children above the minimum age need to be protected in the workplace to ensure that they are not involved in hazardous work. This requires training and organising young workers so that they are aware of risks, rights and responsibilities in the workplace.
The report reminds readers of the severe impact exposure to hazards can have on children, whose bodies and minds are still developing late into teenage years. It also examines in detail six economic sectors: crop agriculture, fishing, domestic service, mining and quarrying, and street and service industries. The study notes that the problem of children in hazardous work is not confined to developing countries and evidence from the USA and Europe also points to a high vulnerability of youth to workplace accidents.
Child labour can be eliminated
There are positive messages in the report as it shows that there has been some tangible success stories in removing younger children from hazardous work, as well as in reducing the number of girls caught in this worst form of child labour. The report is divided into three parts. The first provides a general overview of the issue, including definitions, the numbers of children affected and why children require special protection. The second part considers the research evidence regarding the problem and positive initiatives in addressing it. The third and final part puts together a conceptual framework that aims to show what a coordinated, comprehensive effort to stop hazardous work of children should look like by recommending that a life-cycle approach be used. This involves a stronger focus on ensuring that education and training policies prepare children for work life so as to achieve an effective school-to-work transition. It also requires that when adolescents move into the labour force there are adequate safeguards for their safety and health. The report stresses that addressing hazardous work by children is not only a technical issue. Major and sustainable progress requires public policies that address the root causes of child labour: tackling poverty, ensuring children have access to education and providing a social protection floor which protects the vulnerable.
In closing, this new ILO report underlines that the international community is at a critical juncture in meeting the target of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016. There are tools and interventions available to address hazardous child labour that have been tried and tested over time in different countries, for example, wider awareness of international labour standards, laws and regulations, education policies, enterprise policies and closer monitoring of supply chains. Given the challenge of removing 115 million children from hazardous work, the ILO highlights the importance of setting a clear strategy for moving forward and outlines three broad areas of response in this regard:
- preventing younger children from becoming engaged in hazardous work;
- protecting older children in the workplace;
- strengthening the underlying policy framework.
Urgency means now
Commenting on the launch of the new ILO report, Global March Chairperson Kailash Satyarthi said: “We welcome the ILO’s report on hazardous child labour and we hope that this will further reinforce the messages that were sent out through the ILO’s Global Child Labour report last year and the adoption of Roadmap 2016, not only at the Global Child Labour Conference in The Hague in May 2010, but also by the ILO’s own Governing Body in November 2010. Global March is extremely concerned that the urgency expressed in these documents and political statements of intent has not led to greater follow-up and investment. How much longer can we talk of urgency and acceleration of action? These children cannot wait.”
He continued: “As this report clearly points, there is so much we know about what works and how to ensure sustainable change with policy coherence at the top of that list. Unless there is an accelerated effort, underpinned by political will, to work towards the elimination of worst forms of child labour, then the goal of 2016 will not be reached. This is unthinkable – hazardous child labour by its very definition refers to children working in extreme danger, including of losing their lives – we cannot and must not fail these children. We once again call on all governments, the international community and donor organisations to turn their full attention to this development challenge and to realise this critical development goal.”
To visit the Global March web pages on the 2011 World Day Against Child Labour, click here
To visit the ILO’s web pages dedicated to events relating to the World Day Against Child Labour 2011, including press statements, videos, campaign materials and stories from different countries, click here
To download a copy of the ILO’s hazardous child labour report in English, French and Spanish, click here