Progress towards ending child labour has stalled in the countries most likely to be supplying goods to the west, a study has found. Despite high economic growth and big improvements in education and development, countries such as China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia have made little progress in tackling child labour. “The economic momentum of many countries is yet to trickle down to the poorest in society and any meaningful headway on labour rights issues, including child labour, remains elusive,” said Oscar Larsson, a human rights data analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, the risk analytics company that produced the analysis.
Child labour victims number an estimated 152 million, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 73 million of whom work in hazardous conditions. Researchers ranked 198 countries based on their laws and adoption of international treaties, the ability and will to enforce them and the frequency and severity of violations. The five highest-risk countries were North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Eritrea, and the Central African Republic. The researchers also highlighted a rapidly escalating risk of child labour in Venezuela as a result of the country’s economic and political crisis. Venezuela has fallen 80 places in the index since 2016 and now ranks seventh. Globally, 27 countries – with a total collective population of 900 million people – were ranked as having an “extreme risk” of child labour. A further 82 countries were categorised as “high risk” in the index, including China (ranked 98th) and India (47th). If the frequency and severity of violations are looked at in isolation, both countries are considered to be at “extreme risk.”
Violations refer to incidents where international treaties on child labour have been broken – for example, a child under 15 is found to be working in conditions that damage their development. Due to the hidden nature of such cases, the researchers estimated frequency by surveying a range of UN, ILO and NGO sources. Agriculture, manufacturing, apparel, construction, mining and hospitality all pose high levels of risk in both India and China, according to the study. Researchers also raised concern over the trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children. East Africa has five of the 10 highest risk countries globally, making it the region where children are most vulnerable, while 16 of the 27 “extreme risk” countries are in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the report. Cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a child labour magnet, according to Sam Haynes, head of risk indices at Maplecroft. He also identified coffee farming in Ghana as a high-risk sector. “In sub-Saharan Africa, there’s a real mix of the effectiveness of governments,” he said. “Some are trying to do good things but are failing because of the lack of effectiveness of the state.”
Ben Smith, ILO’s senior specialist for child labour, said that, in absolute numbers, child labour in sub-Saharan Africa had overtaken child labour rates in Asia and the Pacific combined. The UN aims to end child labour of all forms by 2025 and has introduced measures such as cash transfer schemes for children who have to work due to their families falling on hard times. “At the current rate of decline, we won’t get there. Child labour cannot wait, the need for assistance is now,” said Smith. “Agriculture is the flashpoint of child labour problems. We need to accelerate and redouble efforts and make a breakthrough”, he added. The ILO, which discussed child labour at their conference in June, sets the minimum age for work at 15. Poorer countries can use 14 as an interim age, but children cannot be involved in hazardous work before they turn 18.
Credit: Nishat Ahmed for The Guardian, 14 June 2019.