As we mark World Day Against Child Labour 2017, African Child Trust asks that you consider the following scenario: a nine year old boy from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) demonstrating promise academically, has his world turned upside down. His father has suffered an injury that has left him disabled and unable to work and provide for his family. Now, rather than spending his days in a classroom and developing the skills necessary to climb the social and economic ladder, the nine year old is sent to work in a copper mine, where safety regulations and the hopes and dreams of a child are completely disregarded in favour of the continuation of the cycle of poverty for labourers and untold riches for multinational corporations.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is marking the 15th World Day Against Child Labour by highlighting the impact of conflicts and disasters has on the phenomenon of child labour. Violence and disasters, both natural and man-made, clearly exacerbate the situation, and spotlighting the role that violent elements can have is an important discussion. It is critical, though, that it remain absolutely clear that child labour is not something that flares up during specific, turbulent moments in time, but is rather a static norm that requires a concerted effort to end once and for all.
Recent global estimates based on data of UNICEF, ILO and the World Bank indicate that over 200 million children between 5 and 14 years of age are working world-wide, and about 111 million children are in what has been termed as “hazardous work” which refers to forms of labour that are likely to have adverse effects on the child’s safety, health, and moral development, either because of its nature or because of the conditions in which it is carried out. Nearly 10 million children are involved in the worst form of child labour, including sexual exploitation, slave labour, drug trafficking, child soldiering in armed conflicts and other illicit activities. The incidence of child labour is higher in sub-Saharan Africa than in any other region in the world. It is estimated that 41% of children aged 5-14 years in sub-Saharan Africa work, which is about 80 million children.
The UN and nations around the world have legislated against child labour, but it must be pointed out that there are multinational corporations that undoubtedly profit from the labour of African child; that there are Western beneficiaries to the horrors of child labour; and that those that would instinctually rebel at the thought of their child emerging from a mine shaft, dirt and grime caked to their face, directly and indirectly benefit from that scenario playing out amongst the children of Africa.
It has been argued that poverty is the main reason why children work. Poverty and economic shocks clearly play an important role in determining the market for child labour. However, poverty in itself is not a sufficient explanation of child labour, and it certainly fails to explain some of the unconditional worst forms of this tragedy. Child labour is instead the combined product of many factors, such as economic stagnation; government policies; armed conflict; migration; famine; health issues and social norms condoning it. Families in vulnerable situations may put their children to work because they need the immediate benefits of their labour due to the lack of adequate social protection. Also, many children are sent to work because the economic returns from working may be greater than returns they would be able to accumulate in low-quality, inaccessible schools. Poverty, then, is not the propellant, it is the end result – how can a child break the cycle when he or she is toiling instead of learning?
African Child Trust is committed to working with our partners across Africa to advance the educational opportunities of African children, engaging with the problem of child labour at its root. We are ensuring that orphans and the children of widows do not have to leave school to become the family breadwinner. This is one of ACT’s most critical missions, but we cannot accomplish our goals without the generosity of sponsors like you.
With ACT, you can become part of the solution by changing the life of disadvantaged children and orphan in Africa by sponsoring child and keeping them safe from the hazard of child labour. To find out more about sponsoring an orphan or disadvantaged child in Africa, please click here.
Watch ACT director Dr Kunle Obabolu speak with Al-Jazeera (3minutes in):