The 5th Global Conference of the Elimination of Child Labour closed on 20 May 2022 with the adoption of the ‘Durban Call to Action’ to deal with the scourge of child labour.
The conference was a collaboration between the South African Government, the ILO, social partners, international organizations and other stakeholders. It took years of hard work and dedication to arrive at this point.
This week was preoccupied with the difficulties children face in places of work – where they should not be in the first place – often in difficult circumstances characterized by decent work deficits and hazardous conditions.
The different sessions and panel discussions deliberated on varied topics ranging from agriculture and climate change to education and global supply chains – with the focus on how these elements contribute to child labour.
The role of children as the benefactors of all efforts was appreciated. The Children’s Session was intended to recognize children's voices in a matter that concerns them; as the children said: “Nothing about us without us!”
Delegates discussed subjects ranging from the prevalence of child labour in agriculture; the formalization of the informal economy and the creation of decent work; the need for additional resources and targeted policies addressing the root causes of child labour; the challenge of COVID-19 eventually reverting years of progress in the fight against child labour; forced labour and child trafficking; supply chains and child labour.
Both in-person and online conference attendees adopted the document by affirming their commitment to preventing and eliminating child labour. These include representatives of governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, United Nations agencies, international and civil society organizations, businesses, children and academic institutions.
Government representatives from previous host countries – Norway, the Netherlands, Brazil, and Argentina – took to the floor to call for an enabling environment to end child labour.
Employment and Labour Minister of the Republic of South Africa, Thulas Nxesi, said the message has been clear: “unless governments pass the necessary legislation, unless governments and business accept that we need structural change to the economy, child labour will not be eliminated. It must not be about profit, but also about people at the centre. It will also be an oversight on our part not to recognize children’s voices”.
Nxesi said the challenge was how to consolidate the gains made to benefit the vulnerable “so that we do not go back. How do we strengthen basic education, provide kids with necessary transport, provide a meal a day and ensure children have access to social protection?”
“When we opened the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour on Sunday, 15 May 2022, we expected good responses locally and internationally. However, we are humbled by the scale of participation, the positive feedback and words of encouragement from across the globe”, said Nxesi.
Presenting the Durban Call to Action six-point plan, Department of Employment and Labour Director-General Thobile Lamati said the drafting committee had worked day and night to come up with a collective document.
He said in doing its work the drafting committee after having gone through inputs decided that the ‘Call to Action’ should focus on:
The 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour follows past editions held in Oslo, The Hague, Brasilia and Buenos Aires. The conference brought together ministers, national agencies, international and civil society organisations, businesses, children and academic institutions. The participants had gathered in Durban, South Africa to discuss measures to prevent and eliminate child labour and forced labour.
“The Durban Call to Action commits social partners and other stakeholders to accelerate efforts to eliminate child labour and the worst forms of labour by promoting decent work; protecting survivors; universalising access to education and social protection; and increasing multi-stakeholder cooperation and financing for ending child labour and forced labour”, concluded Nxesi.
This is a victory for South Africa and Africa as it’s the first time the conference occurred on the continent. In true South African tradition, a choir sang a rousing rendition of “Shosholoza” and chanted their support for the elimination of child labour.
“The outcome document is the key means to achieve the elimination of child labour,” said Martha Newton, ILO Deputy Director-General for Policy. “After regional consultations across the world last year, a series of common thematic areas emerged, including education, social protection, and poverty and informality.”
The group’s next common challenge is to implement it.
The LO and the South African government have been applauded for being excellent hosts for this international event. Much has been discussed and now is the time for action. As many have said this week, it’s time we walk the talk!
Starting with this: all the branding materials used in the conference will be recycled into school bags for local students affected by the floods in Durban, South Africa.