DURBAN, May 20, 2022 (IPS)– Governments around the world must focus on providing free quality education and prosecuting corrupt officials and those who siphon off state and donor funds as crucial steps in taking decisive action to combat child labor around the world.
These were among the diverse opinions of child labor survivors and youth activists in reaction to the Durban Call to Action to eradicate the practice at the 5th World Conference on the Elimination of Child Labor in Durban. . Hundreds of delegates, including world leaders from business, labor and civil society organizations, attended the conference, which took place in the city from May 15-20, 2022. Sessions and tables rounds highlighted topics such as agriculture, climate change and global supply chains. how these sectors and issues contribute to child labour.
Speaking at the closing ceremony on Friday, the Vice-President of the International Organization of Employers for Africa, Jacqueline Mugo, highlighted highlights of the 11-page Durban Call to Action.
“The Durban Call to Action is a comprehensive action plan. Employers fully support this plan,” Mugo said.
The Durban Call to Action aims to:
- Ensuring decent work for adults and young people above the minimum working age
- End child labor in agriculture
- Preventing and eliminating child labor and forced labor through data-driven policy and programmatic responses
- Realizing children’s right to education
- Ensure universal access to social protection
- Increase funding and international cooperation.
“It is in our hearts to make this crucial turning point happen. We must not disappoint the children of the world. This implementation of the Durban Call will largely be the work of an African who will take over the leadership of the ILO later this year, so we have no reason to fail. We are deeply committed to working for its full implementation,” Mugo said.
“This conference is breaking new ground. Remember that 160 million children are forced into child labor, half of whom are involved in hazardous work that puts their physical and mental health at risk. We must not forget that behind each number there is a girl, there is a boy like the others who wants to learn, who wants to play, who wants to be taken care of and grow up and be able to get a good job in adulthood . They are deprived of the most basic rights to protection. This is intolerable and, quite frankly, morally unacceptable,” Houngbo said.
According to the latest statistics from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and UNICEF released in 2020, highlighted at the conference, at least 160 million children are now involved in child labour, an increase 8.4 million in just four years.
Sierra Leone Labor Congress General Secretary Max Conteh has blamed the Covid-19 pandemic for eroding progress made in tackling child labour.
“Statistics indicate that past achievements are rapidly being eroded and child labor is exacerbated, not thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. This has resulted in a large number of children dropping out of school and falling into the job market,” Conteh said.
South Africa’s Minister of Employment and Labor, Thulas Nxesi, called on countries to implement action plans to respond to the Durban Call to Action.
“The message was very clear, governments must pass the necessary legislation, governments and businesses (must) accept that we need a structural change in the economy, it must not only be about profits, it must also about people. This message was very clear. It would be a serious oversight not to launch earlier in the conference the Children’s Call to Action, which underlined the need for free access to education, social protection, the provision of safe spaces during crises such as pandemics and climate change-related disasters and the importance of evoking the spirit of ‘nothing about us without us’ to democratically include children in the policies and decisions that affect their lives.
Several child labor survivors and activists who commented on the conference and the Durban Call to Action said that the fight against child labor should focus on education, eliminating corruption and l listening to children’s voices.
Esther Gomani, a student from Malawi, said she was pleased that the voices of around 60 children, who represented ten countries, were heard in the special children’s sessions for the first time at the global conference.
“Before, they did things without including people (children). People come to conferences, and there is no commitment. They come to enjoy the benefits. Now the children’s voices have been amplified (to be heard) – nothing about us, without us. We have to be involved in the solutions,” Gomani said.
Rajesh Jatav, a child labor survivor in India, who was rescued by the Kailash Satyarthi Foundation, said governments should focus on providing quality education.
“Education is the key. That’s the only message. Ensure quality basic education. Governments have plenty of money for quality education. But there is corruption. They should use this money to stop illicit flows,” Jatav said.
Badaku Marandi, a survivor from India, vehemently agreed.
“We are child survivors and educated, we challenge the government and the private sector to provide quality education,” Marandi said.
Rebekka Nghilalulwa, a child activist and representative of 100 million March (Namibia), said the plan must be implemented to achieve results.
“I want to see everyone’s responsibilities and roles described. The Durban declaration should correctly describe the implementation. That way, next time, we’ll celebrate and not deliberate over issues. It would be disappointing to include vocals just for show. Even though we are young, we have the experience (of child labor),” Nghilalulwa said.
This is part of a series of stories that IPS will publish at the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labor in Durban, South Africa.