Opening remarks by Ms Simrin Singh on World Day Against Child Labour 2017

By Ms Simrin Singh, Director, ILO Country Office for Sri Lanka and the Maldives

Statement | Sri Lanka | 22 June 2017
A very warm welcome to all. I would like to first thank all of you for your participation today to discuss an issue that I know is very close to your hearts and that you have dedicated yourselves to eradicating. We, the ILO, in collaboration with the Girl Guide Association and UNICEF, are very pleased to have your presence to mark the World Day Against Child Labour, a day dedicated to strong and unified advocacy against child labour for which momentum should not wane after today. Today we will talk about a future free of child labour here in Sri Lanka, and also around the world, with a specific focus on how to protect children from child labour in situations of conflict and disasters – both natural and man-made.

You may already know what the data tells us. It is not pretty. As many as 168 million children around the globe are engaged in child labour with 85 million of them working in conditions that are clearly hazardous and often prohibited by law. It is safe to say that many of these children live in conflict-and disaster-affected areas and have entered or remained in child labour as a result of these.

Unfortunately, Asia and the Pacific region is known to have the highest number of children engaged in child labour, which is approximately 78 million or roughly 1 in 10 children. Against this backdrop of dismal figures, there is room however for some optimism, especially here in Sri Lanka. As of 2016, 48,421 Sri Lankan children are in child labour. That is 1% of the total child population in the country, and a remarkable testament to the dedication, commitment and foresight of policy makers, activists, and practitioners that see child labour as unacceptable for Sri Lanka.

That being said, Sri Lanka stands at a delicate moment in making child labour one for the history books. It is precisely this 1% - often the hardest to reach and most vulnerable - that we need to dedicate our energies to bring the incidence down to a zero.

For Sri Lanka, this year’s theme for World Day Against Child Labour cannot be more timely or relevant. We know that the conflict in the past scarred the childhood of many and left them with no other choice but to work. We know that the recent floods, droughts, and the devastating 2004 Tsunami, exacerbated the multi-dimensional vulnerabilities that push children into child labour. We know that climate change is not disappearing, and we need to be prepared to be resilient in the face of it, including ensuring that the highly vulnerable – our children – do not suffer the consequences through a childhood of exploitation and harm.

Today we have in our presence children, parents, civil society, government and other UN agencies. Together we demonstrate our united stand to fully eliminate child labour in Sri Lanka. This means that Sri Lankan children are no longer vulnerable to the ill effects of disasters which if not tackled can reverse all the hard earned progress made to date. You may know that the Sustainable Development Goals have set an ambitious target of zero child labour by 2025 (Target 8.7 under Goal 8 to be specific). Sri Lanka is clearly well on it’s way to being the showcase of this target being achieved. So, let’s commit to working doubly hard now to ensure that progress is not stalled, or reversed in the face of disasters.

Remember, there are 48,421 Sri Lankan children out there, at this moment, engaged in child labour.

Let’s continue our tireless efforts to bring and keep it down to zero!