5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour

South Africa hosted the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour during 15 – 20 May 2022, formally launched by the Employment and Labour Minister Nxesi, in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal Province, for the first time on African soil. Despite COVID-19 restrictions and the devastating natural disaster that took place in KZN, the Minster felt that it was important that the conference should go ahead to show solidarity and support to our people of KZN and South Africa in general.

The terms solidarity and unity are of utmost importance, not only in terms of the conference whereby the global community converged on African soil to find solutions to end child labour, but also in lieu of the fact that this is a global crisis. It is only through working together as a global community that we can hope to achieve zero child labour by 2025.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) describes the term “child labour” as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that: is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and/or interferes with their schooling.

The ILO publication titled Global Estimates 2020, trends and the road forward highlighted the following trends:
• Child labour remains a persistent problem in the world today.
160 million children (63 million girls and 97 million boys) were in child labour globally at the beginning of 2020, accounting for almost 1 in 10 of all children worldwide. 79 million children were in hazardous work that directly endangers their health, safety and moral development. Sub-Saharan Africa is disturbingly consistently the highest of children in the age group of 5 to 17 that are used in child labour and in working in hazardous conditions. As a matter of fact, this region has more children in labour than the rest of the world combined.
• Global progress against child labour has stagnated since 2016.
The percentage of children in child labour remained unchanged however the absolute number of children in child labour increased by over 8 million. Similarly, the percentage of children in hazardous work was almost unchanged but rose in absolute terms by 6.5 million children.
• The COVID-19 crisis threatens to further erode global progress.
New analysis has predicted that by the end of this year another 8.9 million children will be in child labour due to rising poverty driven by the pandemic.
• Involvement in child labour is higher for boys than girls of all ages.
Among all boys, 11.2 per cent are in child labour compared to 7.8 per cent
of all girls. This is reduced by half if household chores are included as a measure.
• Child labour is much more common in rural areas.
There are 122.7 million rural children in child labour compared to 37.3 million urban children.
• Most child labour – for boys and girls alike – continues to occur in agriculture. Seventy per cent of all children in child labour, 112 million children in total, are in agriculture. Over three-quarters of all children aged 5 to 11 works in agriculture.

• The largest share of child labour takes place within families.
Seventy-two per cent of all child labour and 83 % of child labour among children aged 5 to 11 occurs within families, primarily on family farms or in family microenterprises. Family-based child labour is frequently hazardous to their health, safety or morals.
• Child labour is linked to non-attendance to school or receiving an education.
More than a quarter of children aged 5 to 11 and over a third of children aged 12 to 14 who are in child labour are out of school.

The significance of the conference and its objectives are illustrated by the attendance of South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, who opened the conference, sharing the stage with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Chairperson and President of the Republic of Malawi Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder and Argentina President Alberto Ángel Fernández Pérez (virtual).

The Conference was attended by an estimated 4 000 delegates, ILO constituents, international and regional organisations, civil society organisations, research institutions, foundations, individual experts and Nobel Laureates. Up for discussion items included good practices, gap identification and urgent measures that should be taken to assist children caught in the trap of child labour. Thematic subjects covered were education, crises and climate change (as can be seen in the severe drought taking place in Ethiopia leading to starvation), social protection, youth employment, financing, agriculture, supply chain and inequality.

The ILO Conference is in line with Sustainable Development (SDG) Target 8.7 and the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) which focuses on the elimination of child labour in all its forms by 2025 and the eradication of forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking by 2030.

Sustainable Development Goals, calls on all to take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and to secure the prohibition and elimination of all forms of child labour as an essential step to achieving decent work for all, full and productive employment and inclusive and sustained economic growth.
The Conference achieved what it set out to do as explained by the Department of Employment and Labour Director-General Thobile Lamati “In essence the conference is a call to action to eradicate child labour. We do not want this to be a talk shop. We will be working with the ILO to produce a daily outcome document,”.

The event was concluded with the adoption of the Durban Call to Action. The Call to Action of Durban on the elimination of child labour, aims at forging a renewed and accelerated commitment between governments and other stakeholders towards the elimination of child labour by 2025.

With only three years left to 2025, many obstacles remain to be overcome, and the Call to Action intends to catalyse national efforts through concrete actions coupled with the monitoring of indicators on child labour to accelerate and keep track of progress towards the achievement of that goal. Mr Lamati concluded by saying that: “We have made a promise to children to end child labour. There is no time to lose.