Let us make a real difference for the most vulnerable children and their families!

Ms Dagmar Walter, Director ILO India, was invited by Lok Sabha Secretariat Parliamentary Research & Training Institute for Democracies (Pride) to speak at a panel discussion on ‘World Day against Child Labour’.

Statement | New Delhi, India | 12 June 2021
Thank you very much indeed for inviting me and a very warm good morning to my esteemed fellow panellists, parliamentarians and all the listeners!

Let me start by why WDACL is particularly important this year.

1) First, 2021 was declared International Year for Elimination of Child Labour by the UN member States, including India, as an effort to pull together around the Sustainable Development Goal and target 8.7 to eradicate Child Labour by 2025. The global community had been concerned as progress over the last 20 years had recently stagnated…

2) Secondly, ILO has been entrusted by member States and made responsible for measuring Child Labour worldwide and we bring out global estimates periodically and this year they have just been released together with UNICEF.

It is a very worrying picture. The number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide – an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years. That means one out of every 10 children is in child labour (10%). And important to note is that 70% of child labour is happening in agriculture, so mostly in rural areas.

3) Now, third, COVID-19 Pandemic – has dramatically increased the vulnerabilities of poorer families and those who work in the informal economy, and this will push another 9 million children into CL by the end of 2022. And it could become much worse if social protection measures slip, then this could become as many as 46 million.

Global progress has come to a halt for the first time since we began measuring 20 years ago, reversing the downward trend that saw child labour fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016.

So your initiative today could not be more important and significant for all of us to come together to realise the state of affairs and then spur into ACTION.

The International Labour Organization and UNICEF are calling for increased spending on public services such as social protection that actually reaches the families and children at risk.

Further, universal access to free and good quality education, here dedicated attention is needed in every State and district in India on an urgent basis to ensure that all children get enrolled and attend. In the past, India has been very successful when for example meals have been offered to the children in school.

Likewise, decent work for adults and young people of legal working age is essential and also needs dedicated employment strategies, both sectoral and geographical. All evidence shows that better working conditions spur productivity and make businesses more profitable and sustainable.

And then I could not stress more that there needs to be Renewed focus on child labour in agriculture. Soon there will be a Global “Food Systems Summit” – where it would be important to address this issue as well.

Now of course laws are important to protect children – loopholes need to be addressed.

But even much more important is effective enforcement and comprehensive child protection systems.

Children and their families need child protection systems, public services such as social protection, access to quality education, health and sanitation. And as you well know this is not available for free. So the huge Covid-19 response and recovery programmes that are put in place need to invest a sufficient proportion in a human-centered recovery strategy that would change the conditions for the future generations.

We should not forget that investments in the poorer segments have immediate effects on spurring the economy, but also for developing a stronger and more resilient and sustainable, particular rural, economy. This in turn has effect on other dimensions like migration for example, providing viable alternatives locally, instead of forcing people to leave.

I also need to mention that a gender lens must be applied to measures taken so that they bring results for both boys and girls, men and women.

Now, coming back to the role of ILO in child rights. The ILO is a tripartite organization where member States are represented not only by government but also employers (business community) and workers representatives (TUs). India is a founding member of ILO in 1919 and a permanent member of its Governing Body since 1922. Together the constituents craft international labour standards.

Two conventions on child labour: Convention on Minimum Age for Work (No 138), and Convention on Worst forms of child labour (No.182) both of which India has ratified in 2017. Monitoring of application of the conventions has triggered off, and this will continue. It is time to put them into practice.

To start with, you need to know the situation – measure/ monitor – Do not pretend the problem does not exist, Acknowledge it, address it. This is what Global business also wants to see, Government taking responsibility.

ILO has long history of technically supporting India in eliminating child labour. This continues.

The International Programme to Eliminate Child Labour (IPEC) was launched in 1992, and India was one of the first countries to benefit. Developed National Action Plan to eliminate child labour. Eventually the Government’s National Child Labour Project took it over.

Today, NEW FORCE AND IMPETUS IS NEEDED - Stakeholders in India have gathered under the banner of the SDG Target 8.7 Platform to collaborate. This is in line with the global Alliance 8.7 which we encourage India to become a member of.

Collective effort is extremely important to eliminate CL as the convergence model has already demonstrated so far. As ILO we continue to support at central and sectoral levels, but also States, like for example Telangana, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, to name a few. Other States have also benefitted through earlier programmes focussing on:

• Children withdrawn from hazardous work and provided with transitional and pre-vocational education, and social support to prevent relapse;
• Linked adolescents with vocational training;
• Building capacities of teachers, educators and their organizations
• Increased economic security of families who withdraw their children from hazardous work by encouraging savings and development of alternative livelihoods;
• Access provided for children to quality education to prevent children from entering or re-entering hazardous work;
• Public support and momentum created against child labour in the target districts and in favour of educational opportunities;
• Several advocacy, training material for teachers and trainers were developed.

I think we can still be inspired by this approach.

Now let me round off with closing the gap. Inequalities already existed before the Pandemic, but these gaps became glaring and exacerbated in these pandemic times. Heavy investment in education is needed to close the gap, it also creates jobs. Digital access has to be increased and made equitable and affordable. Investment has to be well planned, and directed more to strengthen the rural economy.

Let us be practical, focus on specific sectors in geographical areas, involving all the stakeholders, and make the programmes converge for effective results!
The ILO together with the UN family is here to support you!

Let us make a real difference for the most vulnerable children and their families!

I thank you very much and I have confidence in you!
Broadcast of the speech is available at here