108th International Labour Conference - Thematic Forum

We must work together and scale up our action to end child labour

ILO Director-General’s opening address to the first Thematic Forum held at the 108th International Labour Conference.

Statement | 13 June 2019
Ladies and Gentlemen, Excellencies, thank you.

This is a really special day, and this Human Rights Council Room is the right room for this event. It is a pleasure to have so many in the room, including many people who have dedicated great efforts to the fight against child labour. We have some very special guests with us today, and I would like to welcome in particular Kumi Naidoo back to the ILO.

This is also as Conny said the first in a series of Centenary International Labour Conference thematic forums; and how appropriate it is that the very first should be a commemoration of our work against child labour.

Today, we mark the World Day against Child Labour that took place yesterday. We have been commemorating it together for 17 years now; but tackling child labour has been at the heart of the Organization since its creation. If you look back you see that two of the first six ILO Conventions adopted in 1919 addressed this issue. Indeed, the first recorded piece of legislation against child labour in my own country dates back to 1802. While we hope we’re moving now to the end of the struggle, a lot remains to be done.

Today, the abolition of child labour is recognized as one of the fundamental labour rights in the world, along with the other fundamental principles and rights at work. There is a new momentum in the last 20 years since the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, No. 182, was adopted. It is universally endorsed and now it is almost universally ratified! It couldn’t be today but it’s going to be soon, and then we can celebrate the universal ratification of Convention 182.

This journey has been remarkable and many of you have been around for much of it. You will recall the momentum leading up to the adoption of Convention 182, culminating with marchers from the Global March Against Child Labour joining delegates at the 1998 Conference to call for a new standard to come into being. And Convention 182 was the first Convention in the history of our Organization to be unanimously adopted, and also the first Convention to be negotiated without the need for a vote.

That in itself was remarkable and was a precursor to the unanimity in the international community that child labour must be brought to an end. In the years that followed its adoption, Convention 182 became the most rapidly ratified Convention in the history of the ILO. Strange, isn’t it that a relatively new Convention should be the one whose ratification has been so rapid that Convention 182 is now the most ratified we have.

Seychelles, Malawi and the United States were the first three countries to ratify the Convention in 1999, and it really was a very special moment in 1999 when President Clinton signed. We are joined today by the representatives of two countries that have recently ratified the Convention, and I would like to welcome in particular Mr Santosh Kumar Gangwar, Minister of State for Labour and Employment of India and Mr. Woldeyesus E. Gulay, Director-General of Labour from the Ministry of Labour and Human Welfare of Eritrea. It is very important that they are with us today.

We can be proud of the progress made. Countries in every region of the world have taken legislative and practical action to end child labour. The good news is that since 2000, there are 90 million fewer children in child labour. That is no small achievement.

That of course is no reason to rest on our laurels: the bad news is that there are still 152 million children in child labour, 73 million of whom in hazardous work. If anyone has trouble visualizing that, take a look at the virtual reality screen just outside this meeting room, to see what child labour in gold mining really means.

So we must work together to accelerate the pace of progress and scale up our action to meet SDG Target 8.7 on ending child labour in all of its forms by 2025.

There are many very good reasons for us to be here today. I see in the room Assefa Bequele, who was with us at the very beginning of our work against child labour.

Without further ado, I would like to hand over to our moderator for this forum – Conny Czymoch, who has joined us on many occasions in the past, and is a great pleasure to welcome back today. We have a lot to discuss, of what has been achieved and what we have still to do.