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Universal protection against the worst forms of child labour

In 2020, for the first time in the ILO’s history, an International Labour Standard achieved universal ratification, with acceptance by all 187 Member States. Universal ratification of ILO Convention No. 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999) means that all children now have legal protection against the worst forms of child labour. The landmark achievement comes at a significant moment, because the United Nations has designated 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. Vera Paquete-Perdigao answers some key questions on child labour and the Convention.

Comment | 23 December 2020

What is the current child labour situation?

Countries have made a lot of progress in the last two decades. Global child labour rates have come down from 246 million children in 2000 to 152 million children in 2016. However, this figure is still very high, particularly as half of these children are in hazardous work, defined as a worst form of child labour. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to stall or even reverse the progress of the last 20 years. A generation of children is at risk. At this critical moment we must redouble our efforts – in particular to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 8.7, to end child labour in all its forms by 2025. Policy choices are important, both to safeguard children during this crisis and to make lasting improvements in their situation. Universal access to free education, child protection systems and decent work for parents and youth of working age are key elements for accelerating progress and increasing resilience against future crises.

Why is universal ratification of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, No. 182 significant?

Universal ratification demonstrates a global consensus that the worst forms of child labour have no place in our society. All children now have legal protection against these forms of child labour. Convention 182 filled a critical gap in the international legal framework protecting children’s rights. But this does not mean that the problem has been solved. For that to happen the Convention needs to be fully implemented, everywhere.

What are the worst forms of child labour?

The worst forms of child labour expose children to physical danger and/or profound psychological trauma that can affect them for life. The worst forms of child labour include slavery and similar practices, child prostitution and pornography, illicit activities such as the use of children in drug trafficking, and hazardous work which is likely to harm their health, safety or morals.

How does ratification lead to eradication of these and other forms of child labour in a country?

Ratification puts into motion action to tackle child labour in law and in practice. Countries that ratify commit to bringing their domestic laws and policies in line with the provisions of the Convention. They commit to taking immediate, time-bound measures to prevent the worst forms of child labour, to withdraw children from it and provide them with the necessary rehabilitation and care, with a special focus on girls. In many countries, ratification of this Convention, and ILO Convention No.138 on Minimum Age, has led to the adoption of national action plans on child labour that mobilize whole-of-government responses. There is concrete evidence that this works. In the 20 years since the adoption of Convention 182 we have seen a decline of nearly 40 per cent in child labour and the strengthening of laws and programmes to protect children from child labour across the globe.

How will universal ratification help to eliminate all child labour by 2025?

SDG Target 8.7 is an ambitious goal that can only be achieved by working together, within and across borders. Partnerships such as Alliance 8.7 are helping countries to drive progress towards this target by sharing knowledge, experiences and innovative approaches. The United Nations has declared 2021 to be the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. This offers an opportunity to strengthen the worldwide movement against child labour and keep the commitments made with the universal ratification of Convention 182. The V Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour in South Africa (2022) will be another milestone to review progress, identify what still needs to be done to achieve a world free of child labour by 2025 and to mobilize all necessary resources to make this a reality.