In For the Long Haul – Bringing an End to Child Labor

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In For the Long Haul – Bringing an End to Child Labor

© Tycho MüllerI have just returned from the Global Child Labour Conference 2010 where a Roadmap for Eliminating the Worst Forms of Child Labour was unanimously adopted. Representatives of organizations and governments came from all over the world to learn from one another and re-charge the campaign to end one of the greatest moral blights of our time. For two 12-hour days, delegates shared their experiences and insights into why child labor, ten years after the adoption of ILO Resolution 182, continues to harm children in every corner of the world, children who have not benefited from globalization.

Resolution 182 defines the worst forms of child labor as: any form of slavery or trafficking, using children for illicit activities such as drug running or prostitution or pornography or work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children. According to the latest figures from the ILO, 115 million children are still engaged in these kinds of jobs: in mines, at dump sites, working in brothels, as domestics, selling drugs, harvesting pesticide laden crops and other jobs that defy any reasonable understanding of what “childhood” means.

Piet Hein Donner - Dutch Minister for Social Affairs & Employment

Piet Hein Donner – Dutch Minister for Social Affairs & Employment

I’d like to say that the conference proceedings were uniformly harmonious, but they weren’t. A draft document had been prepared in advance of the conference and there were clear tensions over multiple issues; why the draft proposal targets the worst forms of child labour and not all of child labor, why the roadmap and conference lacked an equally detailed and transparent financing plan for the goals it set, why corporate social responsibility is left to be voluntary?

People had genuine differences, came to the issues in very personal ways, represented countries where child labor is endemic and, in the case of Africa, increasing dramatically. Time and again, representatives from some of the poorest nations on earth detailed their nation’s efforts to eliminate child labor and called for more resources. I attended a workshop session ostensibly on new sources of international funding and found it dishearteningly void of real content.

Money, and how to generate a steady and predictable flow of funds for development work, was a subject that felt pushed to the sidelines at this conference. There’s no apparent roadmap for funding the work, only more of the same… which amounts to an international system of passing the hat to collect whatever countries are comfortable with donating at any given moment. One is left to wonder how sustained work to end child labour can be accomplished when a budget that corresponds to the action plan isn’t at the center of the discussions.

Queen Beatrix and Child Labor Delegate

Queen Beatrix and Child Labor Delegate

Evident among the delegates was a broad and shared sense of purpose and some very important common core principles; that child labor cannot be allowed to exist, that there is no excuse for the worst forms of child labor, that we need to create conditions to help families break the cycle of poverty, that focusing on decent work for adults will reduce the number of working children, that children deserve the chance to go to school, that we’ll never achieve the Millennium Development Goals of gender equality, hunger reduction and education for all without tackling child labor, that reliable data is critical to ascertaining the extent and nature of child labor and that we all need to act together NOW to make child labor a thing of the past. The final vote to ratify the Roadmap was unanimous.

I’m comfortable with the Roadmap’s more limited focus on the worst forms of child labor, especially since children working in U.S. Agriculture were singled out in the remarks of U.S. Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis who pledged to the delegates her best efforts to see to it that America complies with convention 182 (which we ratified in December of 1999). To accomplish this task, passage of the now pending CARE bill to protect children in the fields would be a good beginning.

At the end of the conference, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton appeared on-screen from Washington to commit the U.S. government to support the proceedings with a pledge of sixty million ($60 million U.S.). Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands attended the closing session to show her support and the Dutch government’s seriousness in taking the issue head on.

Kailash Satyarthi

Kailash Satyarthi

I’m still struck by the story Kailash Satyarthi told during the opening session of the conference. A young boy he’d rescued from slavery in the carpet industry and was educating at Bal Ashram, a safe haven for former child slaves, approached him and asked, ” What was my crime? What did I do wrong? Was it being born poor? In a poor country?” Ultimately this boy understands child labor better than any of us…only he didn’t need a conference to sort it all out.

We have two new contributors on Media Voices this week. Elsie Lewison has just returned to work with the SAFI Project in Kenya (Sanitation Activities Fostering Infrastructure) and has sent us a blog about a communal cleanup effort in Dol Dol. With so many other equally urgent needs going unmet, waste management is an ongoing problem in developing countries, and the repercussions for public health are disproportionately severe for children. Marsha Winsryg tells the story of how she first began selling Mukuni woodcarvings and other crafts as a way of raising money for a home for disabled children in Zambia, in How to Become a Low-End Philanthropist. Marsha makes the point that you don’t need specialized knowledge or access to help. There are many ways to help, and anyone can do this.

Finally, we have posted a short film produced by IRIN Films, “Forced to Flee – Cambodia’s Rapid Development” about a poor dessert vendor displaced from a slum area in Phnom Penh that is being cleared for development.

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