Child labor is not unique to a particular country, ethnicity, culture, or ideology. Today, there are about 168 million child laborers around the world, with 85 million involved in hazardous work. These numbers are a marked improvement from the year 2000, when an estimated 246 million children were engaged in labor, with 171 million involved in hazardous work.
On the heels of yesterday’s observance of World Day Against Child Labor, we cannot afford to be complacent. Rather, we must challenge ourselves to find ways of accelerating the progress we’ve made. As International Labor Organization (ILO) Director-General Guy Ryder recently stated: “We are moving in the right direction, but progress is still too slow. If we are serious about ending the scourge of child labor in the foreseeable future, we need a substantial stepping-up of efforts at all levels. There are 168 million good reasons to do so.”
Child labor affects everyone, regardless of age, culture, or ethnicity. If a child works instead of going to school, both the child and the child’s family suffer from lack of access to knowledge and resources. Child labor thus serves to perpetuate the cycle of poverty, inequality, and economic and social vulnerability.
Over the years, the U.S. Government has collaborated with organizations from around the world to shed light on the plight of these children and to find solutions. The Department of Labor (DOL) is the leading funder of projects to combat child labor worldwide, supporting more than 270 projects in more than 90 countries that have rescued more than 1.7 million children from exploitive labor. Among the more than 60 organizations DOL has worked with is the International Labor Organization’s International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (ILO-IPEC), which currently has operations in 88 countries, making it the single largest operational program of the ILO.
Each year the World Day Against Child Labor highlights a different aspect of the child labor issue. This year’s theme was extended social protection, which aims to provide security and protection to poor families, so that they can endure economic, health, and environmental-related shocks -- and so that their children do not have to suffer the consequences and bear the brunt of providing for their families at such a young age. The ILO lists several social protection instruments that are helpful in combating child labor, including cash and in-kind transfer programs, public employment programs, maternity benefits, social health and unemployment protection, income security in old age, and protection for people with disabilities.
In order for us to invest in our future, we need to invest in protecting children from the consequences of our inaction. We need to make sure that they are provided with the freedom to flourish, an opportunity that is certainly more difficult for them to take advantage of if they are confined to the fields, mines, or factories.
The U.S., working with the ILO and other international organizations, continues to seek a larger, more impactful dialogue across countries and institutions.
About the Author: Andrea Strano serves as a International Relations Officer in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.