President Cyril Ramaphosa has expressed his optimism that through the “Durban Call to Action on the Elimination of Child Labour”, social partners and stakeholders will be able to chart a course towards eliminating child labour by 2025.
Ramaphosa was delivering an address at the Fifth Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour in partnership with the International Labour Organisation in Durban on Sunday.
The conference is being held for the first time on African soil and will take place for the rest of the week.
The conference has brought together stakeholders from all over the world that will be drawn from governments, labour, business, civil society and international organisations such as Unicef, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Bank.
The conference will be looking at why millions of children are victims of exploitative labour practices, why this persists in some countries but less so in others, and what decisive interventions are needed to end these practices.
“We are here because we share a common conviction that child labour in all its facets is an enemy. Child labour is an enemy of our children’s development and an enemy of progress. No civilisation, no country and no economy can consider itself to be at the forefront of progress if its success and riches have been built on the backs of children,” Ramaphosa said.
According to the ILO and Unicef, there have substantial progress in addressing the worst forms of child labour exploitation.
But, at the same time, the effect of worsening poverty meant that, according to the ILO, a further 8.9 million children are expected to be engaged in child labour by the end of 2022.
“This threatens our efforts to eliminate child labour by 2025 as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
“When life is about survival and families struggle to make ends meet, young children are often forced to leave school to earn wages to assist their families,” he said.
Ramaphosa said another challenge was limited access to affordable quality education for children.
“Without such opportunities – and particularly where there is no legal obligation on parents to send their children to school – there is a greater risk of children of poor families being put to work.”
Ramaphosa added that the lack of universal social protection, including child support grants and forms of childcare support for working mothers, contribute to conditions that increase the likelihood of child labour.
“It is our duty and responsibility as the international community to ensure that no parent is ever put in such a predicament, that no child is denied decent schooling, and that no family is forced to send their children out to work because they have no choice,” he said.
Ramaphosa addressed the reality that prospects for eliminating child labour and achieving decent work were limited unless the structure of the global economy and the institutions that support it were changed.
Among other things, this required patterns of trade and investment that were more inclusive, creating opportunities for developing economies to become more integrated into global value chains, he said.
He called on all social partners to adopt the Durban Call to Action that focuses on the practical steps needed to take to make a difference.
Firstly, he said, the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention of 1999 must be fully implemented by all countries.
Secondly, Ramaphosa said universal access to social protection, with a specific focus on children and the vulnerable must be attained.
“By providing a basic floor of support for families with children, we can reduce the need for children to be put to work, whether in the home or elsewhere.”
Thirdly, work towards free, equitable and quality education for all children, so that every child has an opportunity to advance and to improve their material circumstances.
“Fourthly, we must intensify our efforts to end all forms of discrimination against the girl child, particularly with respect to domestic work and access to education.
“Fifthly, we must work to expand global supply chains to include poorer countries as part of our efforts to achieve decent work and eradicate child labour.
“Lastly, we need to ensure that companies and consumers are more aware of child labour and its effects, and that through their purchasing and investment decisions, they do not support exploitative labour practices,” he said.
The conference continues this week.