In a new report issued for World Day Against Child Labour, the International Labour Organization (ILO) warns that a staggeringly high number of children are still caught in hazardous work – some 115 million of the world’s 215 million child labourers– and calls for urgent action to halt the practice.
The report, “Children in hazardous work: what we know, what we need to do,” cites studies from both industrialised and developing countries indicating that every minute of every day, a child labourer somewhere in the world suffers a work-related accident, illness or psychological trauma.
The report also says that although the overall number of children aged 5 to 17 in hazardous work declined between 2004 and 2008, the number aged 15-17 actually increased by 20 per cent during the same period, from 52 million to 62 million.
“Despite important progress over the last decade, the number of children in child labour worldwide – and particularly in hazardous work – remains high”, said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “Governments, employers and workers must act together to give strong leadership in shaping and implementing the policies and action that can end child labour. The persistence of child labour is a clear indictment of the prevailing model of growth. Tackling work that jeopardises the safety, health or morals of children must be a common and urgent priority.”
Last year, the ILO’s Global Report on child labour warned that efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour were slowing down and expressed concern that the global economic crisis could “further brake” progress toward the goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016. One year on, the ILO remains extremely concerned with the impact of the crisis on children.
The report calls for a renewed effort to ensure that all children are in education at least until the minimum age of employment and for countries to establish a hazardous work list as required by ILO child labour Conventions. It also says that urgent action is needed to tackle hazardous work by children who have reached the minimum age but may be at risk in the workplace and calls for training and organizing such young workers so that they are aware of risks, rights and responsibilities in the workplace.
The report also says exposure to hazards can have a particularly severe impact on children, whose bodies and minds are still developing late into teenage years. The report looks in detail at six economic sectors: crop agriculture, fishing, domestic service, mining and quarrying, and street and service industries.
The study notes that the problem of children in hazardous work is not confined to developing countries. Evidence from the US and Europe also point to a high vulnerability of youth to workplace accidents.
Other main findings include:
- Children have higher rates of injury and death at work than adults, as shown by a range of research studies.
- A substantial number of children experience long working hours that significantly increases the risk of injury.
- The largest number of children in hazardous work is in Asia and the Pacific. However, the largest proportion of children in hazardous work relative to the overall number of children in the region is in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Most of the decline in the total numbers of children in hazardous work is among girls.
- Over 60 per cent of children in hazardous work are boys.
- Hazardous work is more commonly found in agriculture including fishing, forestry, livestock-herding and aquaculture in addition to subsistence and commercial farming.
So far 173 of the ILO’s 183 Member States have committed themselves to tackling hazardous work by children ‘as a matter of urgency’ by ratifying ILO Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labour.