The numbers confront us with a harsh reality: last year, an estimated 152 million children were involved in child labour, and due to the corona pandemic this number will increase with millions. Studies by UNICEF and Save the Children show that nearly 10 million children may never return to school. Girls in particular are kept at home. These children work in the textile sector in India and Vietnam, they pick cocoa in the Ivory Coast, work in the stone quarries in India or gold mines of Uganda and Mali. Often within international production chains with a market in the Netherlands or other European countries. We urge all involved to take responsibility and join forces in the fight against child labour.
Solid and sustainable supply chains
International trade has been hit hard by the corona pandemic. Lockdowns, closed borders and the closure of factories have led to a global economic crisis. The vulnerability of our international trade chains has become painfully clear, with major consequences for employment and income of people worldwide. Governments duly provide financial support to keep companies afloat and restore the economy. At the same time, the question arises of how we can organize our supply and production chains in a more solid and sustainable way.
Breaking the vicious circle of poverty
One thing is paramount: children should not be working, but should be in school. They are entitled to good quality and safe education. Education offers children a perspective for the future. With decent work and income they get the chance to escape from poverty. Education gives girls and young women the opportunity to freely make their own choices.
Child labour is a complex problem caused by many factors. The low income parents receive for their work, the loss of their income as a result of illness in the family or an accident at work, the lack of adequate educational facilities for the child, a lack of government enforcement to compulsory education and prohibition of child labour, or the perception among parents that learning a trade at a young age prepares the child better for his or her future than education. The impact of corona comes on top of that.
A combined approach
These factors show that a combined approach is needed to combat child labour, with a role for governments, companies and NGOs in close cooperation with local communities, trade unions and teachers. Experience shows that positive results can be achieved this way. In Uganda, several NGOs, Philips, Fairphone and Fair Trade are working with gold miners and the local community to improve the income and working conditions of adults, and the education of children. In Vietnam, employers work with parents to remove children from textile factories and accompany them to education. And success has been achieved in India with establishing child labour free zones in stone quarries. These activities are always supported with lobby and advocacy towards governments to ensure accessible and high-quality education for all children.
Assume responsibility and join forces
2021 has been declared the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour by the United Nations. We require governments to put child labour and education high on the political agenda, companies to fulfill their duty within their production chains and take responsibility for combating child labour, and civil society to offer their network and expertise. Based on everyone’s responsibility, structural and large-scale change can be realized if we collaborate. It is the only way to get the millions of working children into school and give them the chance to a better future.