Speaking at the start of a week of discussions in Durban, South Africa, and online, President Cyril Ramaphosa asked delegates to commit to taking “far-reaching actions” to make a difference in the children’s lives.
The latest figures show that 160 million children, or nearly one in ten children in the world, are still working. The numbers are on the rise and the pandemic threatens to undo years of progress. Child labour has particularly increased in the age group of 5 to 11 years.
“We are here because we share the same conviction: child labour in all its facets is an enemy. An enemy of the development of our children and an enemy of progress” argued the South African leader.
According to him “no civilisation, no country and no economy” can consider itself at the forefront of progress “if its success and its wealth have been built on the backs of children”.
For his part, the Director General of the International Labor Organization ( ILO ) affirmed that accepting child labour as an “inevitable consequence of poverty… is wrong”.
On the contrary, argued Guy Ryder, “we can never resign ourselves to child labour…it is essential to tackle the root causes, such as household poverty”.
Mr. Ryder explained that child labour is “a violation of a fundamental human right, and our goal must be that every child, everywhere, is free from it. We won’t rest until we get there.”
This is the first time that the Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labor has taken place in Africa – a region with the highest numbers of child labourers and the slowest progress according to figures.
Most child labour on the continent – around 70% – is in agriculture, often in settings where children work alongside their families.
Many speakers stressed the urgent need to recover the progress that had been made in many regions before the Covid-19 pandemic, as the UN Sustainable Development Goals deadline for the elimination of child labour.
The conference is expected to conclude with a Durban Call to Action that will present concrete commitments to scale up action to eliminate child labour.