BRASILIA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The International Labour Organization will miss a 2016 target for ending the worst forms of child labor, such as prostitution and pornography, because progress by both rich and poor nations in combating these crimes has been too slow, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said in Brasilia.
“We will not meet the 2016 target and that is a collective policy failure. We have to do better,” Ryder said on Tuesday at the opening ceremony of the Third Global Conference on Child Labour. A declaration at the end of the Oct. 8-10 conference is expected to call on member nations to renew efforts to eradicate child labor, Ryder added.
Although the number of child workers has fallen by a third to 168 million since 2000, nearly half of them are still trapped in the worst kinds of activities: sex workers, bonded labor, recruits for the drug industry.
“If current trends continue, by 2016 at least 65 million children will still be working in hazardous conditions,”said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
Agriculture is by far the biggest employer of children, accounting for nearly 100 million, 59% of the total, and has also shown the slowest improvement, ILO data show. Service sector employment has grown to 54 million children, more than 20% of them domestic workers. Industry employs 12 million child laborers, most of them in the informal economy, according to recent ILO data.
Domestic work is one of the most difficult forms of child labor to eradicate, as activities such as cleaning, cooking, caring for the elderly or for other children and working on small family farms are often not considered work, Becker said.
Countries that have improved investigation and enforcement of child labor laws, expanded access to education, and implemented social programs to give cash to poor families so there is less need for children to work have made the most progress in reducing child labor.
Brazil reduced the number of child workers aged between 5 and 13 to 554,000 in 2012 from 704,000 in 2011 by using income distribution programs for poor families which encouraged them to send children to school, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff told the conference, citing data from the national statistics institute IBGE.
While child labor has declined in Latin America and the Caribbean in recent years, there are still 5.7 million working girls and boys who are under the minimum age for employment or are engaged in occupations that must be abolished according to the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182.
The Asia-Pacific region has the largest absolute number of child workers, 78 million, but sub-Saharan Africa is still the region where child workers form the biggest percentage of the population – 21%.
In many African countries, it is necessary to respect rural realities and find ways to attract children to schools even if they must continue to work. In northern Kenya’s Samburu community, 60% of the children work as shepherds, looking after livestock. The Nainyoiye Community Development Organization (NCDO), set up a non-formal school system to accommodate the children, who attend classes after work for just two to three hours a day.
“This is a way to get these children in school, and maybe in the future they will be able to leave work and make a transition to a more formal education,” said Irene Leshore of the NCDO.