Viewpoint

June 11, 2024

June 12: World Day Against Child Labour; a call to protect and empower our future

June 12: World Day Against Child Labour; a call to protect and empower our future

By Zara Okoye

Do you remember a time when you saw a child and thought they were the cutest thing you had ever seen? Perhaps you would be lucky enough to get a smile from them. Remember how precious you thought they were. For a moment, their joy is contagious. However, this time, as you look closer, you notice their hands are rough, and their clothes are worn out. It hits you that this child, who should be enjoying the carefree days of childhood, is instead probably working more hours than you in harsh conditions, yet still living in poverty.

Every year on June 12th, we observe World Day Against Child Labour to raise awareness and push for action to end child labour in all its forms. This year, as we think about the progress we’ve made and the challenges we still face, it’s important to remember that the fight against child labour is far from over.

The Scope of the Problem
Though since the first World Day Against Child Labour, child labour has dropped substantially, it is still a huge issue. An estimated 160 million children worldwide are stuck in various types of work that steal their childhood, education, and potential. They don’t just work; children often work in dangerous conditions for long hours and are exploited, which takes a serious toll on their physical and mental health. According to Our World in Data, about 16% of children aged 5-17 are involved in child labour globally and the formative years of a child’s life are taken from them for the sake of cheaper labour. The rates are even higher in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 20% of children are working​​​ (Our World in Data)​.
In Nigeria, the situation is dire. A survey conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) indicates that among the 5–14 age group, 42.3% are full-time students who are not engaged in any form of economic activity, 35.3% are in school and working simultaneously, and 11.2% are working only. Among the 15–17 age group, a larger proportion of children are working only, at 21.9% of the population of that age. Furthermore, only 24.7% are exclusively in school, and 45.3% are working and in school (ILO). We have a lot of work to do.

The Importance of Education
To combat the throes of child labour, education is one of our greatest tools. When children have access to quality education, we can break the cycle of poverty that forces families to depend on their children’s income. Data shows that in countries where children work longer hours, school attendance drops significantly because they often have to choose between their education and putting food on the table. which makes sense because it’s hard to balance work and school​ (Our World in Data)​​ . Governments, NGOs, and communities need to work together to create and enforce policies that prioritize education and support families in need. This way, we can help children escape this terrible dilemma and develop into a skilled and empowered future workforce.

Global Efforts and Initiatives
Over the years, many international initiatives have been launched to combat child labour. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has been a leader in this fight, with conventions like the Minimum Age Convention and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention setting global standards. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goal 8.7, also call for immediate and effective measures to end forced labour, human trafficking, and the worst forms of child labour by 2025.

The Role of Communities
Communities play a crucial role in protecting children from labour. Grassroots efforts, including awareness campaigns, local support networks, and community education programs, are essential in identifying and tackling child labour at its roots. Empowering communities with the knowledge and resources to protect their children can lead to sustainable and impactful change.

The Corporate Responsibility
Businesses also have a big role to play. Ethical supply chains and corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives are key in the fight against child labour. Companies need to make sure their products are not made using exploitative practices by doing thorough audits and supporting fair labour practices. Consumers can help too by choosing to support brands committed to ethical practices.

What You Can Do at Home
Like most global issues, the solution may seem elusive and impossible to solve, but even from home, you can make a difference in this battle.

One simple yet powerful action is to be a mindful shopper. Instead of buying the first thing that catches your fancy, perhaps this time you look into where the products you want are coming from. Unfortunately, the cheapest products, especially clothes, often do not come from ethical places (Fast Company). Search for fair trade products and brands that are transparent about their supply chains and committed to ethical practices. By supporting these brands, you can help reduce the demand for goods produced through child labour.

In Nigeria, it is well known that domestic staff and apprentices tend to be underage. This too is very much part of the problem. Fortunately, there is something you can do about it. If you know someone who employs a child, or maybe you do, realize you are now a part of the problem. What this child’s future will look like is now in your hands. Will they stop working and get the education that they need and deserve? Will they be sent home to be a cog in the wheel again, or will you continue to partake in an inhumane practice that keeps Nigeria a sleeping giant? The choice is yours.

Additionally, spreading awareness about child labour through social media or conversations with friends and family can also contribute to the broader effort to eliminate this practice.

Moving Forward
On this World Day Against Child Labour, let’s renew our commitment to ending this grave injustice. It’s a day to honour the resilience of children who have faced unimaginable hardships and to advocate for their right to a safe, healthy, and prosperous future. By working together—governments, organizations, businesses, and individuals—we can create a world where no child is forced to work and every child has the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive.

As a child about to cross into adulthood, I implore you to remember that the fight against child labour isn’t only about statistics and policies; it’s about real children with dreams, aspirations, and the right to a better future. Our collective efforts can make a difference, ensuring that every child enjoys the innocence and opportunities they deserve.

Okoye is 17 years old and a student at Portsmouth Abbey School, Rhodes Island, USA.

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