Cape Town — The International Labor Organization says the latest figures show there are 160 million children around the world involved in child labor. The figures were unveiled at the ILO’s 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labor now underway in Durban, South Africa.
In his opening remarks to delegates, the head of the International Labor Organization, or ILO, Guy Ryder, said of the 160 million child laborers, half of them are in work that puts their health, safety and moral development at risk. Ryder said 89 million of those children are between 5 to 11 years-old — and that child labor is rising in that age group.
He called for action to put the fight against child labor front and center.
“We know what works in a big sense,” he said. “We know education, we know social protection but the people who know the specifics of circumstances are the people on the national level. There has to be national community ownership of this so it’s not somebody who’s going to fly in from Geneva and tell colleagues from other countries the specifics of their own country.”
The fifth global conference on child labor is the first to be held in Africa. The ILO estimates most child labor on the continent, about 70 percent, is in agriculture, where children are often working alongside their families.
The European Commission announced that it will invest 10 million Euros to mainly target agriculture value chains, where child labor is prevalent and exports to the EU significant.
The president of the South African Congress of Trade Unions, Zingiswa Losi, said at a national level, there must be political will to end child labor.
“Importantly at the level of government is to ensure that the labor inspectors are playing their role. To ensure that we don’t just hear about it, but we go, and see, and ensure that there are also penalties,” she said.
Losi challenged workers to be whistle-blowers.
“Our responsibility is also to ensure that we monitor our employers because we want to be workers that are employed by businesses of high ethics. Businesses that are going to ensure that they are not only going to be driving profit,” she said.
Anousheh Karvar is chair of Alliance 8.7, an organization working to meet Target 8.7 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to eliminate child labor by 2025 and forced labor, human trafficking and modern slavery by 2030.
Karvar is in Durban to urge more countries to adopt strategic action plans and monitoring. Currently there are only 26 path finder countries signed up for this.
“We are co-producing global estimates about child labor and forced labor and this is a very important issue for each of the governments and countries that take a step to implementation because you must know where you start the work and where you end it,” she said.
The 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labor is taking place at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Conference Center in Durban and ends Friday.