Child Labour, no matter how anyone looks at it, is a reprehensible practice that must be condemned and stopped where it is still on. But in certain circumstances, it becomes inevitable if the family has to survive. Imagine a situation where HIV/AIDS has killed both parents and the eldest surviving child in a family of four children is, say, 12 years and he has to fend for his siblings. Or in war torn areas that children are not just boy soldiers but also compelled work to assist the family while the father is away on military duties or other demands of the time. These, no doubt, are extreme cases. But they raise the issue which is that efforts should not be limited to stopping child labour but those circumstances that give rise to child labour.
That must have been the thinking of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), an arm of the United Nations (UN), when it launched the World Day Against Child Labour in 2002 to focus attention on the global extent of child labour and the action and efforts needed to eliminate it. The World Day Against Child Labour is also aimed at raising awareness and activism to prevent child labour. It was spurred by ratifications of ILO Convention No. 138 on the minimum age for employment and ILO Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labour.
Each year on June 12, the World Day brings together governments, employers and workers organisations, civil society, as well as millions of people from around the world to highlight the plight of child labourers and what can be done to help them. It is on record that globally over 1.5 billion people live in countries that are affected by conflict, violence and fragility. At the same time, around 200 million people are affected by disasters every year. A third of them are children. A significant proportion of the 168 million children engaged in child labour live in areas affected by conflict and disaster.
It will be stating the obvious to point out that conflicts, disasters and, diseases too, have a devastating impact on people’s lives, push them into poverty, starvation and situations where their basic human rights are violated.
In such dire situations, children are often the first to suffer as schools are destroyed and basic services are disrupted. Many children are internally displaced or become refugees in other countries, and are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and child labour. We share the view that urgent action is needed to tackle child labour in areas affected by conflict and disaster. That action, in our opinion, should start with avoiding those conflicts in the first place because they are products of manipulations by foreign powers intent on being in control of countries and regions. We appreciate the provisions of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 8.7 which aims to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour by 2030. One way of achieving it, we dare to say, is for the developed countries to review the world economic order currently skewed against the developing countries where these incidences of child labour are more pronounced. Trade imbalance in favour of developed countries leads to poverty and the inevitability of child labour. Therefore, the world, especially the developed countries in the West, Russia and China, need to embrace the necessity and urgency of the moment so as to intensify and accelerate action to end child labour.
ILO’s data present a gory picture of hundreds of millions of girls and boys throughout the world involved in work that deprives them from receiving adequate education, health, leisure and basic freedoms, violating in the process, their rights. Of these children, more than half are exposed to the worst forms of child labour including working in hazardous environments, slavery, or other forms of forced labour, illicit activities such as drug trafficking and prostitution, as well as involvement in armed conflict.
The World Day Against Child Labour provides an opportunity to gain further support of individual governments and local authorities, as well as that of the ILO social partners, civil society and others, in the campaign to tackle child labour. Above all, the developed countries must review their foreign policies, political, economic and otherwise that create an enabling environment fertile for child labour.
In Nigeria, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, is leading a delegation to the event in Geneva Switzerland. We hope that at the end of the talk shop, he will come home with new ideas on how to alleviate the scourge of unemployment not just child labour.