Day 5 Recap: Focusing on knowledge building and advocacy around child labour

20 May 2022

Day 5 Recap: Focusing on knowledge building and advocacy around child labour

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The 5th International Global Conference to Eliminate Child Labour's fifth and final day of side events and thematic panel sessions concluded on Thursday, 19 May 2022 at the ICC in Durban, South Africa. Panel discussions were productive and valuable, paving the way for a commitment to end child labour. This was the first time the conference was held on African soil, and history was made when children were included and given a voice in the conference for the first time. On 20 May 2022, the conference will conclude with the adoption of the Durban Call to Action and a closing ceremony.

The day's thematic panels addressed issues such as child labour in agriculture and supply chains, overcoming vulnerabilities.

Throughout the week, participants could interact both online and in-person thanks to the hybrid conference. It was also worth noting the area set up for streaming Dreams of Gold using a Virtual Reality Headset. Attendees were virtually teleported to a gold mine in Ghana, where they were able to experience and live through child labour for a few moments.

The most-affected sector

Worldwide, 70% of children involved in child labour are in the agriculture sector. According to the latest Global Estimates on Child Labour, an additional 4 million children were drawn into child labour over the period 2016-2020. The socio-economic consequences of COVID-19 on food security and agriculture livelihoods have pushed additional children into child labour in agriculture. Without a breakthrough in this sector, the Sustainable Development Goal target 8.7 will not be achieved.

Throughout the panel discussion, global, regional, national and local experts provided insights on how to better position sustainable, resilient agri-food systems as a key driver to ending child labour.

“If programmes are sensitive and target households at risk, if root causes are tackled and small organizations of farmers are strengthened, if we engage in programmes like school feeding – we can end child labour in agriculture,” said Bernd Seiffert, Focal Point for Child Labour in Agriculture at FAO.

He pointed to cross-cutting factors like social protection, climate-smart practices, and women’s empowerment as key elements of an integrated approach in the sector.

Adding to that sentiment, Thoko Didiza, Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development of South Africa, elevated the importance of addressing the root causes of child labour. “Agriculture remains an important sector of our economy and it cuts across several areas”, she said. “If you don’t address poverty, conflict and wars, you won’t solve child labour”. She also called for spot checks to ensure laws are being complied with and she pleads for sectors to work together to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks. It’s easy to have laws in place but ensuring compliance is occurring is imperative.

It was mentioned that people need to speak out against child labour. Anonymous lines need to be set up where this can be reported. In addition, collaboration is needed to eliminate child labour. All ministers need to align and come together to #EndChilldLabour.

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Addressing key vulnerabilities

Child labour is partly driven by specific vulnerabilities, such as poverty, risks and shocks. Without proper access to finance, health services, and social protection, children are more likely to become involved in work and less likely to get an education.

“We have to take action, involve children, and take a rights-based approach”, stated Najat Maalla M’jid, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children.

“The most important thing we’ve done in Pakistan is to stop normalizing child labour”, said Amna Shabbir. She spoke candidly about what her country has done to protect children from child labour: 2 international conventions, 40 legal frameworks, and 20 departments working exclusively toward child rights. Pakistan’s world-class soccer ball production and carpet weaving industries are now 100% child labour-free – a powerful message of hope for other countries with high levels of child labour. It is possible.

Child labour-free supply chains

Supply chains are intricate and interconnected. Panellists discussed structural factors that weaken them and make them vulnerable to child labour.

Claudine Ndusi M'Kembe of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Ministry of Labour discussed some of the steps her country has taken to address the root causes. Recently, the world's attention has been drawn to cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where 60% of the world's cobalt is mined. Unfortunately, child labour is still a major issue in small-scale, artisanal mines. The DRC is focusing on education in addition to strengthening laws, developing advocacy tools, and mobilizing inspectors on the ground.

“We are working for a better future in particular for our girls,” she said. “We are trying to improve social conditions in the country, so parents understand the importance of sending kids to school and not into mining.”

This panel clarified some of the complexities around child labour in supply chains, including the shared responsibilities and the need for more coherent efforts and collective action among a range of stakeholders.

According to Lilian Tschan, State Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour, Germany: “G7 countries must send a clear signal that they support constructive solutions,” she said. “The foundations are in place. We can build on the internally accepted frameworks of the UN, ILO, and OECD. That said, a more binding approach is needed.”

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Raising children’s voices

This month is Africa Month, a time when the world turns to this innovative and solution-oriented continent to scale up initiatives for a better future. "It is fitting that the first global conference be held in Africa, with children's voices, opinions, and talents".  "It is critical that this is done at all conferences where children are involved in the future so that they can be heard", said Deputy Minister Boitumelo Moloi of Employment and Labour South Africa.

South Africa will observe Child Protection Week from May 29 to June 5, 2022. National Child Protection Week is observed annually in the country to raise awareness of children's rights as articulated in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the Children's Act (Act No. 38 of 2005).

Children began the session with an original play that acted out a real-life situation that many children face today. Children during the panel discussion mentioned that poverty was a root cause of child labour. Various children from around the world shared their stories; some were forced to work as children due to poverty and their parents' unemployment. Others were born into labouring families. Amar Lal, a child labour survivor, expressed gratitude for being able to study thanks to a bursary. He is now a lawyer, fighting for other children who were once in his shoes.

The call for governments to put into place infrastructure and concrete solutions for poor families, so children don’t have to work, has been a recurring statement in many panel discussions. 

Amar made a significate statement saying, “As we sit at this conference there are children out there working. We need to act now! The children can’t wait! They need their rights now”.

What can I do now?