“Everything is ceremony in the wild garden of childhood…”

― Pablo Neruda

Unfortunately, this stanza does not resonate with the lives of millions of children around the world whose childhoods are lost to arduous labour in dismal conditions.

Mindful of this, in 2002, the International Labour Organization (“ILO”) launched the World Day Against Child Labour. Observed on 12 June each year, it brings together governments, organizations, and multiple stakeholders globally to evaluate the extent of child labour and the efforts required to eliminate it.

The ILO Programme on Child Labour (“IPEC”) works to achieve the abolition of child labour as outlined in ILO’s Minimum Age (Industry) Convention No.5, 1919, ILO’s Minimum Age Convention No. 138, 1973 and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182, 1999.

Accordingly, child labour is categorised into:

  • “The unconditional ‘worst forms of child labour’, which are internationally defined as slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labour, forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict, prostitution and pornography, and illicit activities.
  • Labour performed by a child who is under the minimum age specified for that kind of work (as defined by national legislation, in accordance with accepted international standards), and that is thus likely to impede the child’s education and full development.
  • Labour that jeopardizes the physical, mental, or moral well-being of a child, either because of its nature or because of the conditions in which it is carried out, known as ‘hazardous work’.”

The Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”), adopted in 2015 by world leaders, include a Target 8.7 that calls on the global community to: “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.”


In July 2019, a resolution was unanimously adopted by the General Assembly (“UNGA”) declaring 2021 as the ‘International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour’. The timing couldn’t be better, considering how COVID-19 has aggravated an already bleak situation, going by the statistics provided on the UN website:

  • “The number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide – an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years
  • The agriculture sector accounts for 70% of children in child labour, followed by 20% in services and 10% in industry.
  • Child labour is more prevalent among boys than girls at every age but when 21 hours per week of household chores are taken into account, the gender gap in child labour narrows.
  • Child labour in rural areas stands at 14%, nearly three times higher than the 5% in urban areas.”

This year, a Week of Action will be launched from 10-17 June, starting with the release of the global estimates and trends on child labour (2016-2020), partnering with Alliance 8.7. The report will include an assessment of “how the pace of progress towards ending child labour is likely to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented economic crisis that has accompanied it” concluding with the stakeholders announcing their 2021 Action Pledges

These initiatives will lay the groundwork for the V Global Conference on Child Labour (“VGC”) that will be held in South Africa in 2022, wherein additional commitments shall be made towards ending child labour in all its forms by 2025, and forced labour, human trafficking and modern slavery by 2030.

While significant headways have been made largely due to aggressive activism and reform in legislative and practical action, the road remains long and winding. Yet, there remains optimism that with consistent and committed endeavours, we can one day mould a world wherein a childhood consists of carefree laughter, character development and above all – dignity. As it should.

Nishtha Chaturvedi

Editor ISLR

Symbiosis Law School, Noida

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