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World Day Against Child Labor: “Human rights and social justice…let’s end child labor”

World Day Against Child Labor: “Human rights and social justice...let's end child labor”

Indian children work near their parents at a construction project in front of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi, India, on January 30, 2010. The children accompanied their parents to the work site, where if they are prepared to work, they will receive money for bread and milk and be provided with dinner by the contractor. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

Today, many children across the globe are beginning to look forward to a break from school for summer vacations.  However, for millions of children across the globe, there is no “break” and there is no classroom because they are forced to into child labor, often being denied an education all together.  The term “child labor” is most often defined as work which deprives children of their childhood, potential, dignity, education, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.

According to the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) most recent estimate, some 215 million children–127 million boys and 88 million girls– are in situations of child labor exploitation.  UNICEF places 16 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 14 years old living in developing countries in forms of child labor, and, in the least developed countries, the number almost doubles to 29 percent overall with Sub-Saharan Africa having the highest rates of child labor at 33 percent.

These children are often forced to work long hours, often in harsh and dangerous conditions. Child labor has a direct link to poverty and provides a substantial barrier to a child’s education, thus enabling a barrier to a child’s education and increasing the literacy gap. Education is often taken for granted in developing nations; however, many poor and impoverished families are forced to face the choice to send their child to school or work to help the family.  It is that choice that has sent millions of children out of the classroom–often disparagingly girls–to toil in fields, factories, homes, and the streets.

For these children, today marks a vital day as we seek to end their struggle and suffering through World Day Against Child Labor, which was first established in 2002 by the ILO as a way to highlight these children’s plight. This day, which is observed every year on June 12th, marks the adoption of the landmark International Labor Organization Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labor.  Additionally, the day focuses on the  ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) requiring States to specify in law a minimum age for employment, which cannot be lower than the age of finishing compulsory education, and, in any case, should not be less than 15 years.

World Day Against Child Labor is intended to serve as a catalyst for the growing worldwide movement against child labor.  World Day Against Child Labour 2012’s theme is: “Human rights and social justice…let’s end child labour.”  This year’s theme focuses on ending the worst forms of child labor, for which recent estimates from the ILO state that 74 million boys and 41 million girls are engaged in the worst forms of labor exploitation.

The ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) calls for “immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition of the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency.” The worst forms are defined as:

  • All forms of slavery, or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage, and serfdom, as well as forced labour, including forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.
  • The use, procurement, or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances.
  • The use, procurement, or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in relevant international treaties.
  • Work which, by its nature or circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children; such harmful work is to be determined by national authorities.

In 2010, the international community adopted a roadmap for achieving the elimination of the worst forms of child labour by 2016, which stressed how child labor hinders children’s rights and limits development.  Therefore, this year’s theme will highlight what still needs to be put into place to ensure that this goal is sustainably achieved.

Although the complete eradication of child labor has been made a priority in many countries across the globe, the goals are a long way off from being achieved, and many countries are not looking at short-term solutions and programs. It is essential that those forms of child labor that pose the highest safety and health risks be immediately addressed. The majority of child laborers–roughly three-fourths–are engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including child soldiers, sexual exploitation, and hazardous work in industries such as brick manufacturing.

The use of child labor impacts children’s rights in a multitude of aspects, but the most detrimental effect–at least in the long term–is often seen in a child’s right to education.  In order to meet the UN’s 2nd Millennium Development Goal–which has set to see that all children receive and complete their primary education–by 2015, we must end the use of child labor.  To do this, we must work to see that education is free because many families still struggle to attain funds for it, often facing the need to choose between funds for school or food for the family and are thus faced with the issue of child labor. Education is a major key in the battle in finding a sustainable end to child labor and must be at the forefront of the fight; education is not only a human right for all children but the gateway out of poverty. Education is empowerment, and empowerment is the key to brake the cycle of poverty.  Nonetheless, some 75 million children worldwide do not have the privilege of basic primary education. Other issues of major priority include: gender equality in all levels of education, education and awareness about the issues and facts of child labor, and teacher shortages.

The fight against child labor is a global fight; however, it is a fight that can be won through unified global action, legislation, and the enforcement of such laws, empowerment, education, gender equality, and consumer awareness.



Cassandra Clifford

Cassandra Clifford is the Founder and Executive Director of Bridge to Freedom Foundation, which works to enhance and improve the services and opportunities available to survivors of modern slavery. She holds an M.A., International Relations from Dublin City University in Ireland, as well as a B.A., Marketing and A.S., Fashion Merchandise/Marketing from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Cassandra has previously worked in both the corporate and charity sector for various industries and causes, including; Child Trafficking, Learning Disabilities, Publishing, Marketing, Public Relations and Fashion. Currently Cassandra is conducting independent research on the use of rape as a weapon of war, as well as America’s Pimp Culture and its Impact on Modern Slavery. In addition to her many purists Cassandra is also working to develop a series of children’s books.

Cassandra currently resides in the Washington, D.C. metro area, where she also writes for the Examiner, as the DC Human Rights Examiner, and serves as an active leadership member of DC Stop Modern Slavery.

Areas of Focus:
Children's Rights; Human Rights; Conflict