On World Day, June 12, the U.N. announced a renewed focus on child labor laws and supply chains. With so many children working, the U.N. says that all supply chains potentially use child labor.
Child labor encompasses “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to their physical and mental development.”
The International Labor Organization (ILO) and the U.N. have declared that nations must pass legislation in order to make lasting change. National governments need to adopt and enforce legislation that defines child labor and protects children against it.
Don’t child labor laws already exist?
Yes: ILO Convention No.182 helps to define the worst forms of child labor and makes a long term goal of the effective elimination of the issue. Also, Convention No. 138 sets the legal age at which a child may begin working.
For most member states of the U.N., the basic minimum age of labor is 15, with the possible exception of 14-year-olds in developing nations. The ILO stresses that no person under the age of 18 should be doing hazardous labor.
Considering that Convention No. 138 was written in 1973 and No. 182 in 1999, the goal of ending child labor is by no means a new one.
While conditions have improved since the inception of these conventions, 215 million children still take part in child labor today. Their employers often force them to work in the drug or sex trafficking industries. Some of these children are even forced to tote a gun and kill others.
Because child laborers number in the hundreds of millions, eradication may seem impossible. Fortunately, however, the numbers are dropping.
As more nations adopt the ILO’s conventions on child labor, the problem continues to diminish. In 2000, only 93 countries had ratified Convention No. 138 and established a minimum age for child labor.
That same year, some 16 percent of children aged 5-17 were exposed to child labor worldwide. The most recent statistics from 2014 show that the number has dropped to 13.9 percent.
As the number of countries that have ratified Convention No. 138 jumps to 169, these small improvements will continue to grow in power and significance.
The real improvement comes with the ratification of Convention No. 182. Since 1999, hazardous child labor has dropped from an estimated 171 million children in 2000 to 85 million today. In addition, 180 countries have ratified this convention.
Ratification of these child labor laws and conventions has been effective in diminishing the problem, but it has not been enough to eradicate child labor.
In order to enforce child labor laws, governments must raise awareness of the problem. In addition, they must enact laws that enforce minimum working age and acceptable working conditions for children.
With World Day’s focus on child labor and its ensuing push for enforcement of ILO Conventions 182 and 138, world leaders will work to decrease the number of child laborers over the coming years.