World Day against Child Labour 2009

Migrant working girls, victims of the global crisis

More than 100 million girls are involved in child labour worldwide, according to a new ILO report for World Day against Child Labour 2009. The report warns that the global financial crisis could push an increasing number of children, particularly girls, into child labour. ILO Online reports from Moscow where migrant workers and their children are the first to be hit by the crisis.

Article | 10 June 2009

MOSCOW (ILO Online) – Three years ago, Sharofat came to Moscow with her three children from Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The 40-year-old woman wanted to join her husband who worked informally at a construction site in Moscow.

“At first, things were more or less o.k.”, she says. “The children were young and my husband had a job. I also found an informal job as a street cleaner or ‘dvornik’ as they call us in Russian”.

According to Sharofat, she accepted the jobs not so much for the money but for the shelter it would provide – a tiny 9 square meter dvornik’s lodge for her family of five.

But in August of last year, with the first signs of crisis, the construction sites in Moscow started to close down, and Sharofat’s husband lost his job. In September he managed to find a job outside Moscow, in the Vladimir region, and left his family in Moscow.

Sharofat received only one telephone call from him and has not heard from him since then. She is now struggling to make a living for her children and herself. She accepted a triple workload as a street cleaner but can only manage it with the help of her two elder children – her daughter Marifat and her 12-year-old son.

Our story is about 10-year-old Marifat who had to take the main burden of family support.

10 years old, working two jobs, no time for school

She helps her mother clean streets in Moscow. She has never attended school. With her limited knowledge of the Russian language and irregular status she has little chance of ever being admitted to a Moscow school.

Marifat says that even if she were admitted to school she wouldn’t have the time to study. She works from early morning cleaning streets, then spends the rest of the day looking after her four-year-old brother.

Still, it’s hard for the family to make ends meet. So Marifat is very proud to have found an extra job for herself - in addition to cleaning streets and providing child care, she cleans the apartment and does the laundry of an old woman in the building where they live.

She and her family have no plans to return to Dushanbe, they couldn’t afford it if they did and they would hardly find any job there. When asked about her plans for the future, Marifat said she simply has none – at the age of 10, life has taught her not to think ahead.

Marifat’s plight is emblematic of the growing vulnerability facing child labourers in general, and girl child labourers in particular, in today’s climate of economic crisis, unemployment and increasing poverty, says a new ILO report issued for the World Day Against Child Labour.

The report states that because of the increase in poverty resulting from the crisis, poor families with a number of children may have to choose which children stay in school. In cultures where a higher value is placed on education of male children, girls risk being taken out of school, and are then likely to enter the workforce at an early age.

The report cites the importance of investing in the education of girls as an effective way of tackling poverty, noting that educated girls are more likely to earn more as adults, marry later in life, have fewer and healthier children and have greater decision-making power within the household. Educated mothers are also more likely to ensure that their own children are educated, thereby helping to avoid future child labour.

The ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) has activities in almost 90 countries worldwide. It works at the policy level, supporting development of legislative and policy frameworks to tackle child labour, as well as through programmes aimed at preventing and withdrawing children from child labour, and has developed a Global Action Plan to eliminate its worst forms – hazardous work, commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking and all forms of slavery – by 2016.

In Central Asia, including Tajikistan, IPEC implements a project “Combating Child Labour – Commitment becomes Action”. The project has a two-level approach: At the sub-regional level it organizes networking and information sharing in order to build capacity to fight child labour in the Central Asian region. At the country level the project helps national stakeholders formulate and implement policies to facilitate prevention, protection, withdrawal, rehabilitation and reintegration of children engaged in the worst forms of child labour.

“The project also assists in increasing employability and creating decent work opportunities for the target families, thus providing viable alternatives to child labour. We aim to prevent families like Sharofat’s from leaving their home country and dooming their children to child labour ”, explains Undraa Suren, the project’s chief technical advisor.