Today marks the victory of the millions of children and activists who marched across 103 countries and 80,000 kms as part of the Global March against Child Labour. In 1998, as thousands of survivors and young people joined me to the lead the largest every mobilisation against child labour in the world, my children De Lucia, Kokhan, Govind, Sokuntia, and Joanna stood on the dais of the 86th Session of the International Labour Conference and demanded the international law whose universal ratification we celebrate today. Today’s celebration is dedicated in gratitude to each one of them, and is grounded in their legacy of freedom.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the people and governments of the 187 countries who have made ILO Convention No.182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour the fastest and only universally ratified ILO convention in history, especially Tonga. I also congratulate the ILO on this historic day.
In the past 22 years we have witnessed many victories, big and small. We have successfully reduced the number of child labourers in the world from 250 million to 152 million. However, in the 22 years that it has taken to universally ratify this convention, we have also lost an entire generation to slavery. Today is also a day of awakening. We cannot afford to lose another generation. It is now time for universal accountability to end child labour. Let there be no doubt, the ongoing pandemic and economic crisis will lead to a substantial increase in child labour around the world. The challenge is enormous, but it is not insurmountable.
The world must come together for 2021, the UN Year for Elimination of Child Labour, to prioritise our children in policies, resources and urgency of collective action. I call on the millions who joined this fight to end child labour over 20 years ago, and to the millions who continue to fight today, to see this to the end. Standing together, I know we will see the end of child labour in my lifetime.