Today, as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Day Against Child Labour, we sadly note that from the latest ILO/UNICEF global report that progress to end child labour has stalled, with Sub Saharan Africa recording an additional 16.6 million children in child labour in the last four years, while the estimated global figures increasing from 152 million to 160 million.
This means that while other parts of the world are making some progress, the situation in our region requires greater resolve and action as a matter of urgency given that situation of children, especially those already in child labour, is now even more precarious due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since 2002, the World Day Against Child Labour has focused global attention on the need for everyone to play a part in ensuring that children have the best foundation to realise their full potential as responsible and productive members of society. This year’s theme; “Act now: end child labour”, isspecial, because in 2019, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour (IYECL).
This year’s commemoration comes against the background of devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which has compounded the prevalent challenges facing children. While it will take time to measure the full impact of COVID-19 on children, there is no doubt that the incidence of child labour continues to rise as the pandemic has destroyed livelihoods and deepened poverty, thereby adding pressure on children to supplement household incomes through work.
It is commendable that all SADC Member States have ratified the core international treaties relating to the protection of children from child labour. These treaties include ILO Convention No. 138 on Minimum Age for Admission to Employment (1973) and ILO Convention No. 182 on Abolition of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999), which has been universally ratified by all ILO Member States. Various laws and policy measures are also in place in SADC Member States to prevent and combat child labour, and interventions to eradicate child labour are being implemented through the agency of multiple actors both public and private.
To mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on children, May I call upon SADC Member States to continue implementing appropriate relief measures and interventions targeting the poor and vulnerable, including in particular children, who are more disproportionately affected. The provision of adequate social security including cash transfers and food handouts remains critical interventions for many families. At the same time, education policies need to be sufficiently responsive to the plight of children, especially those from poor families whose capacity to meet basic schooling requirements such as school fees has been undermined.
As part of its 2021 IYECL pledge, SADC commits to revise the SADC Code on Child Labour and develop a model law, to facilitate harmonised actions in line with contemporary practice, including attention to related ills and drivers such as trafficking and forced labour. SADC also looks forward to the fifth Global Conference on the Eradication of Child Labour, to be hosted by the Republic of South Africa in 2022, and is confident that this occasion will provide the region with an opportunity to share experiences and intensify action to end child labour through global and regional solidarity.
This year’s World Day Against Child Labour should remind all of us, from governments to individual community actors at grassroots level, of our collective responsibility to safeguard the wellbeing of children by taking decisive and practical actions to end child labour.
No action is too small, for the sake of children!