In 1998, a group of forward-thinking activists organized the Global March Against Child Labor. It took groups from over 100 countries to lead a march that crossed 103 countries and ended at the International Labour Organization (ILO) in June 1998, where activists from all over the world rallied to end child labor.
In response, the ILO began the World Day Against Child Labor in 2002. Every year on June 12, governments, citizens and civil societies gather to focus the world’s attention on child laborers and create campaigns to help them.
The movement has lofty ambitions but is still doing a great job of fulfilling them. Before the turn of the millennium, there were nearly 250 million children who were child slaves. The figure has now dropped almost 100 million and is estimated to be around 168 million.
Girls in particular have benefited from this as their numbers have dropped nearly 40 percent since then, while boys have dropped 25 percent. Despite this, some 88 million children still work in potentially fatal jobs.
Like many problems that need to be solved, one method employed in the reduction of child labor is simply raising awareness. The Global March Against Child Labor has proven to governments and civil societies around the world that this is something that needs to be stopped.
The U.S. Department of Labor has played a critical role in producing promotional documents and reports that have been quite successful in raising awareness of this terrible issue. Additionally, USAID acknowledged the power of video and strung together compelling footage in what eventually came to be a feature film about child labor, titled “Stolen Childhoods.”
USAID has played a big role as well in raising awareness. Through the Global Labor Program, USAID has helped workers in Liberia mobilize against employers and has ensured that any exploitative wage practices were discontinued. As children were typically employed in rubber plants in Liberia, USAID managed to ensure that children would not be separated from their parents if they worked, and also oversaw the building of a school on the plant. The employers agreed to pay the adults a living wage.
Another entity that is vital to ending child labor is business. Thanks to the Global March Against Child Labor and USAID’s awareness campaigns, a spotlight has been placed on businesses and their obligation to ensuring that children are not working.
The most prominent advocate of this is the program GoodWeave. This is a system by which companies in India can be certified to ensure that children are not used in the creation of rugs or carpets. Since its inception in 1995, GoodWeave has approved of over 11 million carpets. In that time, the number of children who work in carpet factories has dropped from 1 million to 250,000.
The Global March Against Child Labor was the beginning of a bold social movement, but now we must celebrate and continue its ongoing achievements.
– Andrew Rywak