A new report claims good progress on child labour, but warns against complacency

A new report from the International Labour Organization’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) shows a steep decline in child workers worldwide during the period 2008-2012. The report is the latest in IPEC’s periodic surveys that aim to measure trends in child labour, towards the ILO target to eliminate the worst forms of child labour by 2016.

The report identifies 168 million children engaged in child labour worldwide, down from 215 million in 2008, and 245 million in 2000. More than half are involved in hazardous work, considered one of the worst forms of child labour. While Asia and the Pacific regions report the highest absolute numbers of child labourers, the highest rate of child labour per capita remains in sub-Saharan Africa.

Devil in the detail

While the improvements in numbers are heartening, the picture is considerably more complex in the detail. The report is transparent on the fact that gaps remain in the data, citing “eastern Europe, central Asia, the Pacific, developed countries and several Asian countries” as having missing or incomplete data.

However, IPEC’s senior statistician Yacouba Diallo says the picture is getting better. “Our current data coverage is an improvement on our previous estimate. We cover 53% of the population of children aged 5-17, compared to [previously] around 44%. This is based on 75 national data sets.”

Are the data gaps not cause for concern, then? Diallo explains: “There are gaps in certain regions, but that doesn’t mean we have no data – just not enough to provide an estimate for these regions. For this kind of exercise, we aren’t able to provide statistics because of our sample size in these regions.”

NGOs and the ILO alike express concern over the potential for complacency that could undermine the progress recently made, and cite the fact that the 2016 target for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour will not be met as evidence of this danger.

Gerard Oonk of the Stop Child Labour Campaign coalition warns: “It’s not clear what specific plans individual countries have to speed up progress, and whether ILO is able to monitor it. The Dutch government, for example, are working on a global risk analysis of where the risk is in which industries. They will then use this to focus on where the risk is greatest, cooperate with NGOs and unions, and use their own influence in specific sectors where the risk is highest.”

The ILO’s Benjamin Smith explains that, while the focus of the report is on policy makers, there are clear actions private sector employers can take to continue and accelerate the trends in reduction in child labour. “Companies can have a clear policy of no tolerance of child labour in their operations and supply chain, then do their due diligence on children’s rights. Most child labour, by vast margins, occurs in the informal economy. Therefore, we need to work towards formalising those parts of supply chains to get at the root causes of child labour.”

And with 168 million instances of child labour, there is still a lot to do.

Child labour  ethical supply chains  ILO  NGO 

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