End Child Labour: A call to protect the most vulnerable

The World Day Against Child Labour highlights the ongoing issue of nearly 1 in 10 children worldwide being subjected to child labour, a scourge particularly affecting marginalised communities like migrants, refugees, and trafficked children.

Jun 13, 2024

Children in India protest for an end to child labour (AFP or licensors)

By Francesca Merlo
“A child who cannot dream, who cannot play, cannot grow up. It is robbing children of their future and therefore humanity itself. It is a violation of human dignity.”

Pope Francis’ words as he addressed a conference on Child Labour on 19 November 2021 resonate on 12 June, as the world marks the World Day against Child Labour.

This year, the Day celebrates 25 years since the adoption of the Worst Form of Child Labour Convention. The theme is "Let’s act on our commitments: End Child Labour!"

1 in 10 children
Although we are celebrating the adoption of conventions put in place to fight the horrific reality of child labour, there is still a lot of work to be done, as nearly 1 in 10 children are subjected to child labour worldwide, with some forced into hazardous work through trafficking.

So what is child labour? Who are its victims? What has been done and can be done to prevent it?

What is child labour?
According to the International Labour Organisation, "Child labour" is work that robs children of their childhood, potential, and dignity, and harms their physical and mental development. It includes tasks that are mentally, physically, socially, or morally dangerous and detrimental to children, and/or disrupt their education by preventing school attendance, forcing them to leave school early, or making them juggle school with excessive and heavy work. Whether work is classified as "child labour" depends on the child's age, the nature and hours of work, the working conditions, and the goals of the specific country, varying across and within countries and sectors.

Who are the victims?
As usual, those most at risk of becoming victims of child labour are children who are part of marginalised communities. According to UNICEF, these include migrant and refugee children, many of whom have been uprooted by conflict, disaster or poverty. They risk being forced into work and even trafficked, especially if they are migrating alone or taking irregular routes with their families.

Likewise, trafficked children are often victims of child labour and subjected to violence, abuse and other human rights violations. For girls, the threat of sexual exploitation looms large, while armed forces groups may exploit boys. 

Thousands of children are recruited and used in armed conflicts across the world. Between 2005 and 2022, more than 105,000 children were verified as recruited and used by parties to conflict, although the actual number of cases is believed to be much higher.

Every child has the right...
Organisations like UNICEF and the International Labour Organisation work tirelessly to ensure that all children are safe from violence and able to grow up with their families.

“They shouldn’t have to miss school or be scared to visit the doctor. They shouldn’t be discriminated against because of where they come from. They should be able to feel at home – wherever they find themselves and wherever home is” writes Unicef on its website.

The voice of the Church
The Catholic Church advocates endlessly for an end to child labour across the globe. Pope Francis has often reiterated that children should be children. Speaking on 12 January 2022 during the General Audience he said:

"Children who are at an age when they should be playing are forced to work like adults. Let's think of those children, poor little things, who scour in garbage dumps looking for something useful to trade or sell,"

"I cannot help but stress that it affects every one of us as we are all members of one big human family", he concluded.--Vatican News

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