Opening Address at the Global Report Launch "The end of child labour: Within reach"

by Ms Lin Lean Lim, Deputy Regional Director of ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Bangkok | 04 May 2006

Thank you for coming here today as the ILO launches a major new global report on child labour. This report is issued under the follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. The Declaration refers to the principles concerning the fundamental rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining, the elimination of forced labour, the abolition of child labour and non-discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. Taken together, these principles constitute a social floor for the global economy.

This is the second global report on child labour; the first was in 2000. So we have a dynamic picture of progress. Comparing the situation from 2000 to 2004, there clearly has been progress in reducing child labour – especially its hazardous forms. The report is cautiously optimistic that, if the current pace of decline is maintained and the commitment remains strong, a future without child labour is within our grasp. The goal is the elimination of the worst forms of child labour by 2016.

The ILO report estimates that globally the number of child labourers fell by some 11 per cent over the last four years. That’s 28 million children out of work and in school. A very encouraging indication is that the more harmful the work and the more vulnerable the children involved, the faster the drop. There was a 26 per cent reduction in the worst forms of child labour among those aged 5 to 17 years. Among younger children aged 5 to 14 years, the decrease in hazardous work was 33 per cent.

The fastest progress has been in Latin America and the Caribbean, followed by Asia and the Pacific, then Africa . My colleague, Ms. Boonpala, will be elaborating on the situation in our region. Let me, therefore, just emphasize that while Asia and the Pacific has certainly made progress, we must not be complacent. Especially given the huge size of the child population in Asia and the Pacific as compared to other regions of the world (the region accounts for 54 per cent of the world total of those between 5-14 years of age), the enormity of the task is that much greater. But as the most vibrant region in the world with economic growth rates over twice the world average, Asia-Pacific must ask itself whether it has done enough to end child labour.

Admittedly, the goal of ending the worst forms of child labour within a decade is ambitious and fraught with complex challenges, but one that is within reach.

The progress so far justifies our optimism. There is growing national and international commitment to eliminate child labour. In Asia-Pacific and across the globe, increased political will coupled with rising social movements – many spearheaded by children and youth - are taking more and more girls and boys out of workrooms and putting them into classrooms, out of exploitation toward real opportunity. The ILO Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labour has seen the most ratifications in the shortest time for any Convention in ILO history (159 ratifications in seven short years).

But further progress is not automatic. We need to redouble our efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour within the next ten years. The challenges ahead are still formidable. My colleague will be talking about measures that can be taken to meet the 2016 target. Let me only say that economic growth, poverty reduction and the expansion of educational opportunities are all important – but not enough. Laws are necessary but ineffective unless strictly enforced. There must be a sea change of attitudes among communities and families to accord every child the right to their childhood. And it is not just about the availability of schooling but the quality of education and how parents and children themselves view its usefulness.

There is still a cruel irony in the co-existence of child labour and youth unemployment and underemployment. While demand for certain types of labour is met by children who should not be working, the problem of youth unemployment has been escalating.

The message of the report is that these challenges can be addressed. The elimination of the worst forms of child labour is within reach – and we count on you to help us to spread the message.