2021 is a landmark year. As the world is grappling with the health and unfolding socioeconomic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, we enter into the Decade of Action to Deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. 2021 has also been designated as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour.
Today, 152 million children around the world are engaged in child labour, of which 71% (or 108 million children) work in agriculture, including fishing, forestry, livestock herding and acquaculture. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated poverty - one of the main triggers of child labour - and has imposed challenges to children’s education, development, safety and wellbeing. Thus, the discussion on the topic is both timely and necessary.
Against this backdrop, on the occasion of Europe Day, the EU Delegation in Rome organised a ‘Virtual Symposium on Ending Child Labour by 2025’, bringing together its partners to discuss the most critical challenges to accelerate progress towards meeting the SDG Target 8.7, the most pressing problems and barriers that need to be addressed, the impact of Covid-19, the key ingredients of successful partnerships, as well as how to inspire and scale up action on the way ahead.
The panellists reflected on different aspects of child labour - from agriculture and agri-food systems transformation, through human dignity, gender inequality, human rights to rural poverty and rural development - highlighting the complex nature of the issue. To effectively address child labour and deliver change, there is a need to develop a holistic and whole-of-supply-chain approach. In 2021, the focus needs to be on ‘scaling up’ action, matching commitments with tangible results. The international community must take immediate, concrete and effective action to find a way to come out of the scourge of child labour. The magnitude of this task requires cooperation at all levels and through all sectors. Breaking down siloes and forging strategic multistakeholder partnerships will be an essential step on the way forward.
Alexandra Valkenburg, Ambassador of the European Union, underlined that setting the path for a prosperous, peaceful and resilient future will require a people-centred, inclusive and rights-based approach to development, which builds on the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. 2021 highlights the need to reinvigorate partnerships, strengthen alliances to inspire, and scale up action to ensure that children have the future they deserve.
Stefano Sannino, Secretary-General of the European External Action Service, stressed the need to strengthen multilateral cooperation and coordinated global action to build back a better future as we embark on the last decade to realise the SDGs. “Partnerships need to be at the centre of our thinking and of our actions. The Team Europe approach testifies to the European Union’s global solidarity to support partner countries and assist the most vulnerable in line with the principle of leaving no one behind”, added the Secretary General.
Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, emphasised the need to distinguish between the exploitation of children and household work. The latter is not necessarily harmful to children per se, as it provides skills and helps children build up their confidence and autonomy. Stepping up commitment to alleviate rural poverty and adopting a gender-sensitive approach offers a way to effectively address child labour.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery of Integral Human Development, called on our conscience and made us remember that beyond the data and figures, there are individual human beings whose dignity is robbed and fundamentally abused. “Childhood should be a time of playing, schooling, education, and introduction to cultural, moral and civil virtues for their integral growth and for building up society. It is not meant to be spent in the drudgery of servitude”, pointed out Cardinal Turkson.
Honourable Ignatius Baffour-Awuah, Minister of Labour and Employment Relations of Ghana, reiterated that child labour is neither confined to one sector, commodity or value chain, nor can it be categorised as a purely human rights issue. More attention needs to be dedicated to the strong correlation between the size of family incomes and the involvement of children in child labour. Building on President Houngbo’s remarks, the Minister stressed the importance of identifying the stage at which children need to learn their trade without being categorised as child labourers.
According to Els Haelterman, Head of Partnerships and Fundraising of the IDH Sustainable Trade – Beyond Chocolate Partnership Initiative, the added value of multistakeholder partnerships lies in identifying a “smart mix” to develop action-driven coalitions to achieve common goals while factoring in the human rights due diligence legislation and the three pillars of sustainable development.
Máximo Torero, Chief Economist of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, underlined that progress towards ending child labour would depend on how successful we are in addressing the root causes of child labour in agriculture. According to Mr Torero, long-term sustainability will require turning the “vicious circle of child labour and rural poverty into a positive circle of education, decent work and better livelihoods”.
Martin Seychell, Deputy Director-General for International Partnerships of the European Commission, outlined the European Union’s commitment to the fight against child labour through various instruments and projects. “The biggest mistake we can make is to work in isolation. We need to identify the complexity of supply chains, all segments, actors, the prevalence of child labour and related risks. It is essential to understand the local context and to associate with the beneficiaries in all project phases”, said Mr Seychell.
1. What do you see as the most critical challenges ahead to accelerate progress towards meeting the target of ending child labour in all its forms by 2025? What are the most pressing problems and barriers to action that need to be addressed?
The most pressing problems and barriers are (i) rural poverty, (ii) increasing pressure on national budgets, (iii) growing indebtedness, (iv) lack of recognition and protection of human dignity, (v) lack of decent employment opportunities; (vi) lack of fair living incomes and fair pricing of commodities, (vi) incapability of local economies to cater for the growing youth population, (vii) unsustainability of supply chains, (viii) limited access to education and schools, and (ix) the lack of data and evidence on the number of children engaged in child labour.
2. What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on the fight against child labour, and what implications does this have for where we go from here? Does Covid-19 change what we need to do or merely reinforce the need to act?
The pandemic does not change the fundamental nature of what we need to do; it makes the action more urgent. Even before Covid-19, the world was not delivering what it was supposed to deliver, especially in terms of rural poverty and food security and nutrition. The socioeconomic impact of the pandemic is expected to be greater than the health impact, directly affecting lives and livelihoods as well on the national and global economies. Thus, the challenge ahead is not just about accelerating what we have done before; but we also need to rethink and transform our approaches.
In such context, there is a need to:
3. What more can be done to foster the partnerships and collaboration needed between the wide variety of actors with a role to play to make real progress? What are the key ingredients for successful collaborations that deliver concrete results?
4. In the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, what do you see as the key next step that needs to be taken to do just that and put us on a path to achieve this goal by 2025?
What is next?
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