Week of 28 September 2020
152 million children are in child labour, and it is becoming more prevalent in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This challenge will exacerbate gaps in some countries’ efforts to end child labour, which in 2019 included policies that prevent or fail to support refugee, migrant, indigenous, disabled and rural children from attending school or accessing social services; corruption that precludes adequate legal enforcement; under-resourced and unempowered labour inspectorates; and a lack of laws and penalties to enforce minimum age of work and prevent children from undertaking hazardous or exploitative work (U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of International Labor Affairs)
The U.S. Department of Labor’s International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB) released its 19th annual Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor report, covering the period from January-December 2019. The report is produced annually as a snapshot of global child labour conditions and progress to combat child labour in developing countries. The report primarily captures progress prior to the global spread of COVID-19, however its findings take on additional significance in light of recent research predicting the proliferation of child labour in the context of the pandemic as a result of lost household income, lack of access to schooling and the growth of the informal sector.
The report also flags several other resources developed by ILAB to support companies in identifying and combatting child and forced labour in their supply chains:
- Comply Chain: Business Tools for Labor Compliance in Global Supply Chains – a smartphone and web-based app that provides guidance on eight critical elements of social compliance, including real-world examples on a range of topics, from responsible recruitment to worker voice.
- Sweat & Toil: Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking Around the World – a smartphone app compiling data from ILAB’s flagship reports on child labour and forced labour; it allows users to view country profiles and data on child labour, see current lists of goods produced with child or forced labour, and review country laws and ratifications
- List of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor – this is intended to prevent U.S. federal agencies from procuring goods made with child labour, but is also a valuable resource for the private sector to identify risks of child labour in their own supply chains
Methodology and definitions
The 2019 report covers 119 independent countries and 15 non-independent countries and territories that receive trade preferences under the U.S. Generalized Scheme of Preferences (which conditions these preferences on a country’s performance on certain political and social indicators such as child and forced labour).
The report was developed using data collected through desk research, reporting by U.S. embassies and consulates, fieldwork and some information provided by foreign governments. In recognition of the challenges posed by attempting to assess a systemic—and often hidden—issue like child labour, ILAB analyses the data based on several criteria, including the nature and date of the information, the source of the information and the extent to which it can be corroborated by other sources. ILAB assesses each country based on six core indicators of its performance on child labour, including:
- “Whether the country has adequate laws and regulations proscribing the worst forms of child labor;
- Whether the country has adequate laws and regulations for the implementation and enforcement of such measures;
- Whether the country has established formal institutional mechanisms to investigate and address complaints related to allegations of the worst forms of child labor;
- Whether the country has a comprehensive policy for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor;
- Whether social programs exist in the country to prevent the engagement of children in the worst forms of child labor, and assist in the removal of children engaged in the worst forms of child labor; and
- Whether the country is making continual progress toward eliminating the worst forms of child labor.”
Using the definitions contained in ILO Convention No. 182 on the World Forms of Child Labor, ILAB defines:
- a “child” as a person under the age of 18
- “child labor” as “work below the minimum age as established in national legislation (excluding permissible light work), the worst forms of child labor, and hazardous unpaid household services.”
- “worst forms of child labor” are defined to include slavery or similar forced labour practices such as debt bondage; the exploitation of children for armed conflict, sex work or illegal activities like drug trafficking; and “work which, by its nature or the circumstances under which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children.”
We provide some of the key findings of the report here:
Overview of country performance
- Around the world approximately “152 million children remain in child labor and 25 million adults and children toil under conditions of forced labor, including in global supply chains that crisscross our globe.”
- In 2019, only eight countries (Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Namibia, Paraguay, and Peru) were designated as having made “Significant Advancement,” which means that they undertook “meaningful efforts during the reporting period in all relevant areas covering legal frameworks, enforcement, coordination, policies, and social programs.” 2019 was also the first year that Namibia achieved this designation.
- 67 countries were assessed as having made “Moderate Advancement” in 2019, which means that they made efforts in “some relevant areas” and 27 countries made “Minimal Advancement” on efforts in “only a few relevant areas.”
- A further 16 countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Gabon, Iraq, Kyrgyz Republic, Mauritania, Moldova, Mongolia, Somalia, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Uganda, Ukraine, and Yemen) received a designation of “Minimal Advancement” because they “implemented or maintained a law, policy, or practice […] that undermined other advancements made toward eliminating the worst forms of child labor.”
- Sierra Leone was removed from this list in 2019 after being included for several years because in early 2020 it “overturned its policy that prohibited pregnant girls from attending regular public schools or taking secondary and postsecondary school entrance exams – a policy that made them more vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor.”
- Five countries (Afghanistan, Burma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, and South Sudan) were assessed as having made “No Advancement” because they “were found to be complicit in the use of forced child labor during the reporting period, whether it be for commercial sexual exploitation, public works projects, compulsory recruitment or support for non-state groups involved in recruitment, or participation in armed conflict.”
Select examples of meaningful progress to combat child labour
- Several countries made progress in strengthening their domestic legal frameworks. For example, Ethiopia “raised its minimum age for work from 14 to 15, significantly increased penalties for child labor violations, and extended protections to non-contractual workers.” Tunisia published a new hazardous work list that includes street work, such as “the itinerant sale of items on public streets, beaches, and public transport.”
- Some countries strengthened child labour prevention and enforcement mechanisms by offering training for labour inspectors (Colombia and Jordan); increasing budget allocations to the labour inspectorate (Tunisia); and creating new laws and agencies to further empower inspectors (Georgia and Kenya).
- Countries also introduced new policies to prevent child labour. For example, “the Government of Uzbekistan took up a new Agricultural Strategy that calls for an end to state involvement in cotton production.” Lebanon’s new education policy aims to reduce child labour among migrant workers by allowing “all refugees to enroll in public schools regardless of whether they have the required documentation for school enrollment.” Both Lebanon and Jordan worked with international organisations to improve access to education for refugee children.
- In the area of social protection programs, Bangladesh began implementation of its Eradication of Hazardous Child Labor project “that seeks to identify 100,000 child laborers, reintegrate these children into vocational schools, and provide livelihood support for their parents.” In addition, “Cambodia, Colombia, and Mexico each released results from national surveys that highlighted child labor issues in the production of particular goods and products.”
- In a number of countries, gaps remain in the legal framework to protect children working in the informal sector. In addition, “many countries have labor laws that only apply to certain sectors or exclude certain sectors from their minimum age or hazardous work protections.” For instance, Malawi’s minimum age requirements do not apply to children who work in private homes or on non-commercial farms. And, “[o]ther countries, including Algeria, Nigeria, and Niue, have not determined by national law or regulation the types of work that are hazardous for children.”
- In terms of enforcement of laws on child labour, the Cambodian government “failed to take active measures to investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence public officials who participate in or facilitate the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation of children and debt-based forced labor in brick kilns.” In addition, there were reports of bribery of Cambodian judges “in return for the dismissal of charges, acquittal, and reduced sentencing for individuals committing such crimes, in particular for those with alleged ties to the Government of Cambodia.”
- There is a link between children’s rights abuses and corruption: “The lack of prosecution of public officials facilitating the worst forms of child labor in Cambodia and other countries, such as Afghanistan, India, Madagascar, and Uganda, which is sometimes combined with bribery in the justice system, exacerbates the worst forms of child labor.”
- Many labour inspectorates were underfunded, understaffed and otherwise under-resourced in 2019 (including Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru, Guinea-Bissau, Burundi and the Republic of the Congo), while other countries lacked a functional inspectorate altogether (e.g. Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Other governments imposed limitations on the monitoring and enforcement authority of labour inspectors. For example, the Kyrgyz Republic imposed a 2-year moratorium on unannounced labour inspections, Azerbaijan maintained a moratorium on unannounced inspections, and Armenia does not permit any unannounced inspections to take place.
- Migrant and refugee children remained especially at risk due to a lack of government coordination. For example, “border police officers and social workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina failed to properly identify unaccompanied migrant and refugee children as potential victims of human trafficking due to lack of proper protocols.”
- Bangladesh, Bhutan, Pakistan, and Tonga failed to integrate government policies on child labour into education and development policies; other countries (including Kiribati, Maldives, Algeria, the Central African Republic and The Gambia) do not have policies on the worst forms of child labour.
- “Just as many countries face enforcement challenges, around the world, social programs to address child labor were insufficient.” For example, children in rural areas, children with disabilities, indigenous children, migrants and refugees all faced barriers to education in Bhutan, Nepal, Guyana, Chile, Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador (among many other countries) did not have adequate access to education. Bangladesh has barred Rohingya refugees from attending public schools altogether.