‘If current trends continue, the 2016 target will be missed'

Amid growing concerns over the impact of the economic downturn, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has warned that efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour have slowed down and called for a “re-energised” global campaign to end the practice.

In its global report on child labour, the ILO said the global number of child labourers had declined from 222 million to 215 million, or 3 per cent, over the period 2004 to 2008, representing a “slowing down of the global pace of reduction.”

It expressed concern over the possibility that the global economic crisis could “further brake” progress towards the goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016.

The report, ‘Accelerating action against Child Labour,' says the updated picture from 2006 onwards is one of “uneven” progress towards the goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016. The report warned that if current trends continued the 2016 target would be missed.

The good news is that the overall pattern of child labour reduction has been maintained: the more harmful the work and the more vulnerable the children involved, the faster the decline. However, a staggering 115 million are still exposed to hazardous work, a proxy often used for the worst forms of child labour.

The report breaks down data by age and gender. Progress was greatest among children aged 5-14, where the number of child labourers fell by 10 per cent. The number of children in hazardous work in this age range fell by 31 per cent. Child labour among girls decreased considerably (by 15 million or 15 per cent). However, it increased among boys (by 8 million or 7 per cent). What's more, child labour among young people aged 15 to 17 increased by 20 per cent, from 52 million to 62 million.

Highest incidence

The report includes data aggregated by region. It shows, for example, that the Asia Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean continue to reduce child labour, while sub-Saharan Africa has witnessed an increase both in relative and absolute terms. This region also has the highest incidence of children working, with one in four children engaged in child labour.

Among children aged 5 to 14 in employment, the Asia and the Pacific region experienced a considerable decrease, not only in absolute numbers but also in relative terms (a decline of 26 million from 122.3 million to 96.4 million and a 4 percentage point decrease in incidence). For the same age category, the number of children in employment also continued to decline in Latin America and the Caribbean, albeit at a slower rate. However, the number of children in employment was increasing in sub-Saharan Africa in relative as well as absolute terms in the age group of 5-14.

While most child labour was concentrated in South Asia because of its large population, other ‘pockets' of child labour — often the hardest to reach “hidden” forms — could be found in most countries across the region. Therefore the critical fight against child labour had to be won in South Asia, where the greatest numbers of child labourers were to be found. Often it was the ‘poverty of policy' rather than poverty itself that kept the mass of children out of school and in child labour.

More than 48 million children in Asia-Pacific were in hazardous work – in other words, 42 per cent of all the children engaged in child labour in this region were involved in such work. They accounted for 40 per cent of the world's total number of children in hazardous work.

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