Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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At ChildFund we believe all children should grow up feeling cared for, encouraged and valued, no matter where they live.

Every child should explore, learn and thrive, and be able to reach their potential.

Unfortunately, many children around the world grow up in an environment of fear, unable to have the childhood they need. Millions of children are forced to work in dangerous conditions when they should be learning and growing in the safety of a classroom.

The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to force more children into the workforce, with the economic impact adding further pressure to the household income of vulnerable families.

Despite laws to protect children, and an overall decline in the number of child labourers, 152 million children are still working too early. Below we take a look at how all 152 million children around the world are affected by exploitation as child labourers.

Many children work in agriculture, construction and other hazardous jobs

Of the 152 million children working, 73 million are in hazardous jobs. Agriculture, construction and manufacturing are some of the main industries employing children. In these industries children can be exposed to toxic chemicals, expected to operate dangerous machinery, and expected to work long hours and risk abuse.

When children work they often have to drop out of school, or their education suffers as a result of the additional responsibilities they have outside of school.

“In my life, I am happiest when I go to school, and see my classmates having fun,” said Phhuong, from Cambodia who dropped out of school in Grade 6 to help her younger brother continue his education.

“When I see my friends going to school, I feel very regretful. “I am not able to meet them any more. We used to play together.”

A report by the International Labor Organisation in 2015 found that in some countries working children were half as likely to attend school as children who were not working.

Without an education, or with a limited education, children are more likely to end up low-paid jobs which decreases their chances to escape poverty.

Older children are expected to work to provide for their younger siblings

In the world’s poorest countries, one in four children is a child labourer.

In many cases, the eldest child in the family is the most vulnerable to child labour. As soon as they are old enough to work, they are expected to help provide for their younger siblings.

Children may be expected to work if their parents are unable to

Sometimes children will be forced to work if one of their parents is unable to work. This is what happened to Arum’s daughter Mony, who is 13 years old and working in a dangerous brick factory after he mother was injured at work.

“I don’t want my kids uneducated like me,” Arun said. “I want them to study so they’re able to find better jobs.

“But I didn’t know what to do when my wife could not help me out on family income.”

Almost half of all child labourers are younger than 11 years old. In most regions, girls and boys are equally likely to be engaged in child labour.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted child labour?

COVID-19 has shocked markets and economies around the globe. The resulting impact has the potential to push millions of children living in developing communities into child labour. As parents become sick with COVID-19, children may be forced to work to support the household. There is also no guarantee that all children in developing communities will be able to return to school once government lockdowns lift and schools reopen. Children who do not return to school are at high risk of early entry to the workforce. 

Regions where child labour markets have been particularly resistant to changes in policy and practice may see circumstances become more difficult for children in the workforce. Disrupted supply chains, falling commodity prices and stalled manufacturing could see children, already in the workforce, enduring more hazardous conditions than before.

Get involved with World Day Against Child Labour

World Day Against Child Labour is a United Nations sanctioned observance that is held annually on 12 June. The observance raises awareness of child labour and encourages activism against child labour of all forms.

What is the theme for World Day Against Child Labour 2021?

World Day Against Child Labour 2021 is focused on mitigating the affects of the COVID-19 pandemic on progress towards reducing child labour and exploitation around the globe. 

This year the United Nations will launch a “Week of Action”, beginning on 12 June, with the release of new estimates on child labour and the effect of COVID-19 on child labour statistics.

How can you get involved with World Day Against Child Labour?

If you’d like to get involved with World Day Against Child Labour, there’s a few ways you can join the conversation:

  • Make a pledge: Encourage your organisation to make a pledge against child labour and how you will contribute to positive advances towards its reduction. 
  • Raise awareness: Share the new estimates for child labour or related resources on social media and raise awareness about the impact of COVID-19 on child labour around the globe. 
  • Start a conversation: Talk to family, friends, colleagues and others in your network about child labour. 
  • Fundraise for charity: Organise a charity fundraiser and donate the proceeds to an organisation that works against child labour, such as ChildFund Australia. No contribution to the cause is too small. 
  • Organise an activity: If you’re a teacher, you may wish to organise an activity at your school to raise awareness about child labour. 

How you can help end child labour

ChildFund believes that ending the exploitation of children is inextricably linked to our poverty reduction work.

Poverty can result in more children becoming involved in harmful labour, rendering them vulnerable to trafficking, and increasing the likelihood of girls marrying at a young age.

ChildFund works with local partners, governments and communities to prevent and respond to the exploitation of children around the world. Donate now to help give children a childhood in which they are nurtured, protected, and have access to opportunity.

You can also give to our COVID-19 emergency appeal, and help provide vital assistance for children impacted by the pandemic around the globe. You’ll help keep children safe during a crisis where children are at risk of being exploited.

2021 is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. While we are making progress on this pervasive issue – child labour has decreased by 38% in the last decade – there are still many millions of children who are still undertaking work that is hazardous to their wellbeing.

Workers’ rights include protecting the rights of children to be free from economic exploitation, hazardous work, or work that interferes with their education.

When workers’ rights are not protected, the resulting low wages and economic conditions create a situation in which households must rely on additional income from children.

This puts children at risk of slavery, human trafficking, and sexual or economic exploitation – all of which cause grave harm to their development and well-being.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the exploitation of children.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly states children must be protected from economic exploitation and from any work that interferes with their education or development.

Yet, the International Labour Organization estimates that today there are 168 million children labourers.

For children in humanitarian settings, these issues intensify when there is an absence of strong and effective child protection systems and policies.

More than half of child labourers – 85 million children – are in hazardous work, and a majority are part of the informal economy.

Domestic work is the most common form of child labour for girls, with many working as housekeepers, nannies or caregivers. This puts them at high risk of violence in domestic settings, with little recourse to redress.

The members of the ChildFund Alliance support a holistic approach toward the elimination of child labour. This includes access to quality education, strong child and social protection systems and measures, and supply chain monitoring, as well as remediation mechanisms.

These should be accompanied by appropriate policies and measures and supported by sufficient government funding and civil society. Our specific recommendations include:

  • Governments should strengthen social protection mechanisms to enhance the family’s capacity to provide financial support and care to children;
  • Governments should create strategies to eliminate exploitative work assigned to vulnerable children;
  • Governments should ratify and domesticate ILO Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour and invest in raising awareness about laws protecting children from child labour;
  • Governments should create and enforce laws related to the protection of workers and define exploitative informal types of work;
  • Governments should adopt legislation combatting human rights abuses in global supply chains, including the use of child labour;
  • Governments should adopt legislation to criminalize trafficking in persons, in line with the definition used by the UN Protocol to Prevent and Punish the Trafficking in Persons; and
  • Governments should sign or ratify relevant conventions and their Optional Protocols. The failure to ratify and implement the provisions of these international standards into domestic laws can lead to violations of the rights of children as enshrined in the UNCRC.

Civil society plays a crucial role in addressing and eliminating child labour and harmful work.

We have seen children thrive when communities and civil society commit to protecting workers’ rights; when strong child protection systems are in place; when education is accessible, valued and safe; and when age-inappropriate work is prevented.

Change for children is possible, and we are committed to building a world in which child labour is eliminated for good.

About Meg Gardinier
Meg Gardinier is the Secretary General of ChildFund Alliance. She has over 25 years’ experience in the not-for-profit and international development sectors and has held leadership positions in a range of child rights organisations. In addition to NGO development, advocacy, fundraising, strategic leadership and volunteer management, Ms Gardinier has specialised in advocacy on issues impacting women and children. She is a founding member of the Campaign for US Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Ms Gardinier holds a Master’s Degree in International Political Economy and Development from Fordham University.