The elimination of child labour is a key part Goal 8 of the Sustainable Development Goals: “Decent Work and Economic Growth”. For the first in a series on the SDGs, Caoimhe Durkan looks at how this goal is being achieved.
How is ‘child labour’ defined?
Not all work carried out by children may be defined as child labour. Child labour is defined by the International Labour Organization as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development”. It may be any form of work that is mentally, physically, socially, or morally harmful to the child, or that interferes with their schooling.
Why is combatting child labour one of the Sustainable Development Goals?
According to a study carried out by the International Labour Organization, 152 million children worldwide between the ages of 5 and 17 years are victims of child labour, with 73 million working in what is deemed to be hazardous child labour. Child labour is exploitative as children are frequently paid the lowest rates, and sometimes not at all. Children may also develop long-term health problems, as a result of working under poor conditions, and are often denied their childhood as a result of such labour.
Ultimately, the practise of child labour impacts upon the distribution of wealth globally, since countries which permit child labour lower their production cost, thus attracting investors, and benefitting from unfair trade.
What steps are being taken to combat child labour?
National political commitment, as well as international cooperation are essential for the abolition of child labour. The International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) works actively with NGOs worldwide to combat child labour. In Guatemala, for example, children are frequently employed in the business of rock crushing. Here, IPEC has worked with a variety of NGOs, to provide alternative technologies for rock crushing, promote education, monitor school attendance, and raise awareness about the issue of child labour as exploitation.
Are countries doing enough to combat it?
While all countries have adopted some form of basic legislation which prohibits, or limits the employment of children and young peoples, such national legislation does not always reflect international standards, or may not be implemented. Many child workers and their families remain ignorant of the laws relating to their specific working situation, or do not wish to file complaints for fear of the loss of the child’s job.
While the decline in child labour in Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean is encouraging, the 2016 Global Estimates of Child Labour indicate that one-fifth of all African children are involved in child labour, and an estimated 31.5 million children are estimated to be involved in hazardous work. More action must be taken in these regions to combat child labour where progress against it appears to have stalled.