"We have seven years left to keep our commitment to the end of child labour"

Remarks by Ms Tomoko Nishimoto, ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, for Malaysia’s World Day against Child Labour 2018.

Statement | 13 September 2018
Friends from the media community,
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
A very good morning to you all.

First of all, Honourable Minister, my heart-felt congratulations to you on your appointment as the Minister of Human Resources to take on a very significant portfolio.   We are grateful that despite your tight schedule, you decided to share some of your precious time to grace the occasion this morning.  Your presence is highly appreciated.

Honourable Minister and Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope you are as excited as I am this morning.  We have gathered here to discuss an issue of critical importance, and in doing so, together we are making a history for Malaysia.
This commemoration of the World Day against Child Labour is the very first one in this country.  I applaud the Minister’s leadership in making this possible, and I congratulate to all who have been involved in the preparations for this important occasion. 

Ladies and gentlemen, 152 million people! That is nearly 5 times of Malaysia’s population.  This is the number of children worldwide who must work so they and their families can survive. 
About half of them - 73 million children worldwide – that is over twice of Malaysia’s population - perform hazardous work: toiling in mines and fields, exposed to pesticides and other toxic substances, carrying heavy loads or working long hours. Many suffer lifelong physical and psychological consequences.

A recent ILO report finds that certain occupational hazards, including exposure to psychological stress and to commonly-used chemicals, are even more serious for children than previously thought. In many cases, their very lives can be at risk.

How about the child labour situation in Asia? – Asia where the majority of the countries have experienced significant economic growths in the past decades, and gained the status as middle income country. Unfortunately, despite the past socio-economic successes, Asia, including Malaysia, is still the host of 62 million children in child labour. And 28million of them are in hazardous work.

Malaysia’s position on child labour is very clear.  Malaysia has expressed its firm commitment against child labour by ratifying the two ILO Fundamental Conventions on child labour: Convention 138, also called Minimum Age Convention, and Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. These international conventions set a minimum age for work and ensure the effective abolition of the worst forms of child labour.

The 11th Malaysia Plan for 2016-2020 states its commitment clearly, too. It indicates: addressing child labour is key to “improving the well-being for all and accelerating human capital development for an advanced nation”. We are also encouraged by the new government’s promise in its Manifesto to ensure the protection of workers' rights in compliance with the labour standards set by the International Labour Organization. 

New international standards have been adopted more recently. Of particular importance to ending child labour is the Forced Labour Protocol commonly called P-29 adopted by the ILO in 2014.

This protocol is a treaty whereby states party to it are required to take preventive measures on forced labour, including promoting education for children, both boys and girls, as a safeguard against children becoming victims of forced or compulsory labour. Ratifying P-29 is one more step towards the end of child labour.  I would like to encourage Malaysia to advance its position on this protocol.

Ladies and gentlemen, admittedly, child labour is a complex issue. You will discuss some of the complexities during the technical sessions later today. But one thing is clear. Child Labour thrives on poverty. Poverty pushes the most vulnerable, men, women AND children, to take work at any cost, anywhere, just to survive. And only decent work policies, social protection mechanisms, and universal education can break that cycle of poverty and eradicate child labour. 

We all agree that child labour is unacceptable. In fact the whole world agrees most explicitly.  In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted in 2015, 193 countries committed themselves to achieving 17 inter-related sustainable development goals (known as SDGs) along with associated targets to guide global development.

Among these 17 Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 8 is achieving decent work for all.  And among the targets agreed under SDG 8, Target 8.7 calls for “immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour and, by 2025, end child labour in all its forms”.

I repeat – by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.  Yes, this particular target is set for 2025 not 2030 unlike many other targets. Ladies and gentlemen, we have seven years left to keep our commitment to the end of child labour in all its forms.

The distance to this goal is still very long. The current estimate and data show that the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Target 8.7, will not be achieved unless efforts are dramatically increased. With the current trends, there still will be over 120 million victims of child labour worldwide in 2025.

Ending child labour requires policies that touch upon fundamental rights, education, social protection, labour inspection, informality, youth employment, gender, migration and labour law. While many countries and organizations are taking active steps towards achieving Target 8.7, there is an urgent need for accelerated and coordinated global action.

Achieving SDG 8.7 requires mobilising partnerships at a new level. Partnerships that harness energy, resources and strategic vision. It is in this context and spirit that the ILO facilitated the establishment of an ambitious partnership platform called Alliance 8.7.  It was launched in September 2016.

Alliance 8.7 is a platform for cooperation between governments, workers and employer’s organizations, civil society organizations, academia and private individuals conducting research and sharing knowledge, driving innovation, and leveraging resources to accelerate efforts to achieve Target 8.7. The Alliance focuses on scaling up solutions that work, driving innovation, and leveraging and maximizing the impact of available resources.

Each one of you have and each organization you represent has a role to play in eradicating child labour – as policy-makers, programme implementers, advocates, employers who could incorporate child labour policies in your businesses or who might have emerging good practices that could be replicated, trade unionists who could include child labour issues in your agenda, educators, community leaders, researchers, media, parents and many others.  152 million children need every drop of the wisdom and energy we collectively can contribute.

So please allow me to take this opportunity to invite the Government of Malaysia, our social partners and all other organisations represented here to join Alliance 8.7 and step up the efforts to achieve a world, free of child labour.

Ladies and gentlemen, the protection of children and young persons is enshrined in the ILO Constitution of 1919. Relentlessly, for almost a century now, the ILO has been working to address and prevent child labour, and to ensure the safety and health of young workers.

We stand ready to bring our expertise, experience and assistance to Malaysia, to develop a National Action Plan on Child Labour, build the capacity of Malaysia’s labour inspectorate, enhance compliance of policies and legislations with ILO Conventions, and raise awareness on these issues.

Talking about the partnership, I would like to acknowledge the presence of Mr. Andrew Leyva from the US embassy and thank the US Department of Labour for their generous contribution in support of not only this event and the project in Malaysia, but also other efforts at a regional and global level in addressing the issues on child labour, forced labour and modern slavery.  Mr. Leyva, please convey our sincere gratitude to your government and people of the United States of America.  

Finally, I would like to conclude by thanking you all for being an important part of this historic event, the first commemoration of the World Day against Child Labour in Malaysia.  It is such a wonderful way of contributing the increasingly positive dynamics we feel as the ILO is gearing up to its 100th anniversary next year.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are here because each one of you are an essential partner in the fight against child labour. Change cannot happen unless you make it happen.   So I thank you all for your leadership and courage to take steps in making the much needed change.

Let us renew our commitment today and strengthen our joint efforts to make this world a better place for all children.

Thank you.