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Fresh onslaught against child labour

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Director-General of ILO, Guy Ryder

Race for survival, corporate greed and abuse of rights are the practices that are pushing the frontiers of child labour to a new level.
  
Increasing to 160 million globally, victims of child labour are crying for attention as well as the domestication of plans of action to tame the practice. 
  
The consequence of slow action may result in the coronavirus pandemic adding another nine million people to the already high figure in the next few years.  
  
According to a joint report titled, ‘child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward’, by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNICEF, there were about 8.4 million new child labourers in the last four years.
  
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The report noted that progress to end child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the previous gains that saw child labour fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016.
 
The report pointed to a significant rise in the number of children aged five to 11 years in child labour, who now account for just over half of the total global figure. The number of children aged five to 17 years in hazardous work – defined as work that is likely to harm their health, safety or morals – has risen by 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016.
  
In his reaction to the findings of the report, the Director-General of ILO, Guy Ryder said: “The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk. 
  
“Inclusive social protection allows families to keep their children in school even in the face of economic hardship. Increased investment in rural development and decent work in agriculture is essential. We are at a pivotal moment and much depends on how we respond. This is a time for renewed commitment and energy, to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labour.”
  
Indeed, in sub-Saharan Africa, population growth, recurrent crises, extreme poverty, and inadequate social protection measures have led to additional 16.6 million children in child labour over the past four years.
  
Even in regions where there has been some headway since 2016, such as Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean, COVID-19 is endangering that progress.
   
The report warned that globally, nine million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic. A simulation model shows this number could rise to 46 million if they don’t have access to critical social protection coverage.
  
Additional economic shocks and school closures caused by COVID-19 mean that children already in child labour may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions, while many more may be forced into the worst forms of child labour due to a job and income losses among vulnerable families.
  
On her part, the UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore said: “We are losing ground in the fight against child labour, and the last year has not made that fight any easier. Now, well into the second year of global lockdowns, school closures, economic disruptions, and shrinking national budgets, families are forced to make heart-breaking choices. We urge governments and international development banks to prioritize investments in programmes that can get children out of the workforce and back into school, and in social protection programmes that can help families avoid making this choice in the first place.”
   
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To reverse the upward trend in child labour, the ILO and UNICEF are calling for adequate social protection for all, including universal child benefits; increased spending on free and good-quality schooling and getting all children back into school – including children who were out of school before COVID-19; promotion of decent work for adults, so families don’t have to resort to children helping to generate family income; an end to harmful gender norms and discrimination that influence child labour and investment in child protection systems, agricultural development, rural public services, infrastructure and livelihoods.
  
In its bid to tackle child labour in Nigeria, the Accelerating Action for the Elimination of Child Labour in Supply Chains (ACCEL) Africa Project, sealed an implementation agreement on strengthening workers’ organisation to improve fundamental principles and rights at work towards eliminating child labour in supply chains with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC).
  
The target groups of the Implementation Agreement (AI) are workers at the lowest tiers in the cocoa and Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) sectors and other workers’ organizations working in the identified sectors, especially the informal sector, to formalize thems.
  
The two labour centres are expected to work with their affiliated unions. 
  
Children within the legal working age shall also be a direct target of the agreement to ensure that their fundamental rights are protected following the Minimum Age convention 138.
  
The project communities, including vulnerable children, shall also benefit indirectly from the agreement as it equally promotes decent work in the ASGM and cocoa sectors.
  
The ILO’s ACCEL Africa Project is focused on accelerating action against child labour in the cocoa and Artisanal Gold Mining (ASGM) supply chains in Ondo and Niger states specifically where child labour is prevalent through production and supply chains.
 
The National Programme Officer, ACCEL Africa/ ILO, Nigeria, Dr. Agatha Kolawole has urged wealthy individuals and organisations to sponsor poor children through school as a means of tackling child labour.
  
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“I want to urge religious bodies, philanthropists, management of schools and parents to sponsor at least one indigent child through school. You will not only be saving the child, but you will also be saving an entire generation,” she stated.
  
In the meantime, the ILO Country Director for Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Liaison Office for ECOWAS, Vanessa Phala has warned that if Nigeria does not quicken its pace to eliminate child labour, the country may not succeed in meeting the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 8.7 which seeks the elimination of all forms of child labour by 2025.
  
Speaking at the inaugural National Children’s Conference on the elimination of Child Labour (NCCECL) in Abuja, Phala asked rhetorically: “Let us ask ourselves – are we empowering the unfair use of children in cocoa farms, on gold mines, at home, in factories, in marketplaces and society generally? Are we a part of the cure or the disease?” 
  
Speaking at the occasion, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Dr. Yerima Tarfa said action against climate change, increased reporting of child labour cases to law enforcement agencies, and the domestication/implementation of the Child Rights Act 2003 in every state would help stem the abuse of children as workers. 
  
Yerima hinted that the Labour Ministry’s intends to review Nigeria’s labour laws, an increase in the number of labour officers and factory officers to monitor workplaces and schools, the Federal Government’s provision of free basic education, school feeding programme and other poverty alleviation schemes as some of the government’s efforts to eliminate child labour, while stressing the need to review cultural considerations that threaten population management.

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