Op-Ed for World Day Against Child Labour 2020

“A time of crisis, a time to act”

"We will indeed take definitive action to ensure our future will be one that is absent of child labour". An opinion editorial by Ms Simrin Singh, Country Director, ILO Country Office for Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

News | 12 June 2020
COVID 19, has brought the world to it’s knees. With the pandemic, we face the risk of reversing years of progress.

I have spent 20 years working to bring an end to child labour, hand in hand with hundreds of diverse and dedicated partners.

I have witnessed children working in leather tanneries exposing their young bodies and minds to toxic chemicals, handling dead animal carcasses with their bare hands (and sometime teeth), in temperatures as high as 45 degrees Celsius.

I have seen child labour in domestic work, seen their use of dangerous household appliances and equipment, their carrying heavy loads, and their caring for the sick putting their fragile bodies at risk.

Ms Simrin Singh
Where was their family? Why weren’t they in school? Where were they living? Where was their childhood and dignity? These questions remained initially unanswered.

Today, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we could very well sadly witness an increase in child labour for the first time in 20 years. It might be too early to come up with concrete figures, but millions of children may be at risk of being pushed into work prematurely or under hazardous conditions.

The pre COVID estimates for Sri Lanka were that some 40,000 children – mostly in their early teens - were in child labour. Or one in a hundred in child labour in Sri Lanka! There was great optimism and growing pride that child labour was not as prevalent in Sri Lanka compared to some of our neighbours in the region. The island has over the years made significant strides in tackling child labour, almost reaching the goal of its entire elimination, through multi-dimensional response measures. But are the years of progressive action at risk of being negated as a result of the global pandemic?

Today, the World Day Against Child Labour reminds us that much still needs to be done, and that agile responses are essential given the unprecedented situation that has exacerbated the precariousness and fragility of the lives of those facing economic vulnerability.

The International Year on the Elimination of Child Labour in 2021 is just a very short, half a year away. Urgent, collective action is needed to ensure that child labour does not (re)emerge. This is the time for alignment of local and global commitments and programmatic action led by a spectrum of actors – government, employers, workers en plus.

The ILO is set to come up with new Global Estimates on Child Labour next year. We are also working on a simulation model to assess the impact of Covid-19 on child labour globally. But whatever the figures will tell us, we all have a responsibility to ensure that our collective future is one absent of child labour.

Let us definitively affirm on this day, that we will indeed take definitive action to ensure our future will be one that is absent of child labour.