Transforming Dreams for Child Laborers

This photograph from one of our projects in Malawi captures what’s at stake in the global fight against child labor.

Children in Malawi hold up signs expressing their dreams for the future

In it, we see children who have escaped child labor standing outside of a learning center holding up signs that express their dreams for the future. The boy in the center of the photo holds up a sign that simply and poignantly states: “I have a right to live.”

And the world agrees with him, at least in theory. Freedom from child labor − particularly in its worst forms − is widely recognized as a fundamental human right, which governments worldwide have committed to protect.

Yet in practice, according to International Labor Organization estimates released last week, 168 million children around the world still toil in child labor. That’s 11 percent of the world’s children. And 85 million of them work in dangerous conditions.

Successfully tackling the problem of child labor requires not only political will and capacity, but also the right information and guidance to help steer a course of action.

Today, the Labor Department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs published the 12th annual edition of its Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. For 143 countries, the report details where child labor exists and governments’ efforts to combat it. It assesses advancements and provides specific recommendations for a way forward. And the report does include reasons for optimism: a record 10 countries have shown what the report characterizes as “significant advancement.”

Nevertheless, the bottom line is that there is still much more to be done. Globally and in each country, we need to expand our awareness of child labor and what drives it, strengthen relevant institutions and target key sectors where the problem is known to be widespread.

For the Sept. 30 launch of the 2012 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, Dr. Maya Soetero-Ng – child advocate and sister of President Obama – sent a message by video about the importance of education in combating child labor. She also introduced a series of interviews with children around the world who have been rescued from child labor.

Today, Secretary Perez announced the award of $26 million for projects to help us meet these needs. These projects target specific sectors within countries, including mining in Colombia, tea production in Rwanda and carpet production in Afghanistan.

It is my hope that the report released today serves not just as a call to action but as a roadmap for action, not just as a tool for identifying shortcomings but as a guide for developing strategies to address them. I hope that it can help focus energies next week, when representatives from government, civil society and international organizations come together for the 3rd Global Child Labor Conference in Brazil. And I hope that it can be an instrument for transforming the world’s commitment to eradicate child labor into 168 million more children finally enjoying their “right to live.”

Carol Pier is acting deputy undersecretary of the department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs.

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  1. Scott says:

    I’m all against Child Labor abuse but we have enough problems within our own borders. Stop sending this money overseas and put it to good use here! This makes good headlines for you, but is that what it should be about?

    JMO, Scott

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