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Reflections on the “5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour” in Durban, South Africa, May 15-20, 2022

The recently-concluded, week-long “5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour” in Durban, South Africa was convened against the backdrop of the announcement last July of an alarming rise in child labor numbers after two decades of steady and significant declines in global child labor totals.

The global conference, which typically comes about every four years, brought together an estimated 1,000 delegates from foreign governments and small number of representatives of NGOs. It also brought together for the first time at one of the quadrennial child labor conferences, dozens of participant youth advocates as well as a number of child labor victims and survivors.

The conference had the difficult mission of righting the ship and trying to reverse the rising child labor numbers, which seem destined to rise further as the COVID pandemic’s impact will continue to be felt for years. Sadly, the pandemic threw 1.6 million children out of school, often for prolonged periods and some of those children entered work and may never return to school.

We would first like to thank the South Africa government for the herculean task of organizing a global conference during a still raging pandemic, all against a backdrop of devastating floods in April that savaged the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Easter Cape and killed nearly 500 people, destroyed 4,000 homes and displaced 40,000 people.

As the conference opened, Guy Ryder, the Director General of the International Labour Organization, which helped advise the government of South Africa on the organization of the conference, suggested that the rise in 8 million child laborers from 152 million to 160 million likely represented complacency and a loss of focus by global governments on the child labor problem and must be rectified.… Read the rest

Opinion: Child labor is on the rise; here’s how to prevent it

By Kunera Moore

Did you know that some of your favorite foods may be produced with child labor? The U.S. Labor Department, for example, named coffee as a product associated with child labor risk in 17 countries. This risk also remains widespread in cocoa, the main ingredient of chocolate: more than 60% of it is grown in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, where child labor remains widespread.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 635 million students are affected by full or partial school closures, UNICEF announced last week. And shuttered schools combined with frozen economies means more children are driven into the workforce, according to a recent report by UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank.

A staggering estimate of 160 million children worldwide are involved in child labor, according to a 2021 International Labour Organization report based on data collected before pandemic-induced school closures. This marks an 8.4 million increase since 2016.

Child cocoa workers in West Africa. Photo by Robin Romano.

Yet over the past 20 years, remarkable strides have been made to decrease the number of children involved in child labor worldwide. The Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating all forms of child labor by 2025 gained new momentum for this pressing challenge in 2021, the international year for the elimination of child labor.

We can’t afford to lose this momentum.

“Ensuring all children return to school and stay in school requires urgent investments in education, social security, and poverty reduction.”

 

Seventy percent of children in child labor are working in agriculture — work that can be dangerous and exhausting with long hours under the hot sun. The problem is particularly acute in the African continent. In Uganda, for instance, 22% of children ages 5 to 14 are involved in child labor and do not attend school. But the situation is also serious in a country such as Mexico, where 4% of children work and from that number, 30% work in agriculture.

Child labor must stop. But while banning child labor is commonly perceived as the silver bullet, it’s not enough.

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Child Labor’s Prevalence Perception Problem–What the Consumer Surveys Reveal

The CLC’s Reid Maki

There are a lot of obstacles to ending child labor that the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) and its nearly 40 members confront on a daily basis. Poverty, governmental indifference, educational access issues, and a lack of awareness of the negative, long-term impact of child labor on children are all big factors, but another is lack of knowledge of the scope or prevalence of the problem.

The average American consumer doesn’t understand that child labor is a pervasive problem affecting an estimated 152 million children in the world – and that’s an estimate developed before the pandemic started. We think the number has grown significantly since COVID-19 began, throwing hundreds of millions of families into deeper poverty.

We became aware of the gap between the public’s perception of the problem and the reality of situation seven years ago when the group Child Fund International commissioned a survey of over 1,000 consumers. Only one percent knew that roughly 150 million children were trapped in child labor globally. That number translates to one in 10 children. It’s staggering to think about. Even more disturbing: 73 percent of survey respondents – essentially three out of four—incorrectly guessed that the global total was less the one million. They were off by a factor of 150!

It’s hard to galvanize public and political opinion to confront a pressing social problem when few people realize the massive scope of the problem and instead misperceive it as a tiny, moribund problem. If we want corporations that benefit from child labor to take serious action, we need a better understanding of the problem’s prevalence. Governments are not likely to act or expend financial resources on programs to fix a problem perceived as affecting very few children.

We’ve been wondering if the internet and Twitter and our persistent efforts to educate the public have helped close the perception gap in the several years since Child Fund’s polling. Surveys are expensive and our budget didn’t allow us to conduct a phone-based survey like the 2013 poll.  We decided to use a Survey Monkey internet poll to see where the public’s perception levels were at.

We gave respondents the opportunity to guess how many children were impacted by child labor and we offered them six answer options:

  • 1 in 10
  • 1 in 100
  • 1 in 500
  • 1 in 1,000
  • 1 in 5,000
  • 1 in 50,000

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10 Stats about Women and Girls on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2021

  • Of the 152 million children trapped in child labor, 64 million are girls [source].
  • 73 million children are trapped in hazardous child labor—27.8 million are girls.
  • 29 million women and girls are in modern slavery—71 percent of the overall total of enslaved individuals [source].
  • Women represent 99.4 percent of the victims of forced labor in the commercial sex industry [source].
  • Women and girls represent 84 percent of the victims of forced marriages, now categorized as a form of modern slavery [source]. There are an estimated 15 million individuals in forced marriages.
  • Worldwide, there are an estimated 67 million domestic workers—3/4 are women [source].
  • 132 million girls were out of school in 2016 [source].
  • 9 in 10 girls complete their primary education, but only 3 in 4 complete their lower secondary education [source].
  • In low-income countries, less than 2/3 of girls complete their primary education [source].
  • 42 million people have fled their homes because of armed conflicts; 50 percent are women; 10 million are estimated to be girls and young women. [source]
  • In 2017, there were an estimated 68.5 million forcibly displaced people, including 25.4 million refugees—half are women and girls. [source]
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