No country and economy can consider itself to be at the forefront of progress if its success and riches have been built on the backs of children, said President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Ramaphosa was delivering an address at the Fifth Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour, in partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Durban on Sunday.
The conference, which is hosted for the first time on African soil, will take place for the rest of the week.
It will look at why millions of children are victims of exploitative labour practices, why this persists in some countries but less in others and what decisive interventions are needed to end these practices.
“Child labour is an enemy of children’s development and an enemy of progress. We are here because we recognise the urgent need to put an end to a situation where millions of children across the world are losing their formative years to the burden of unfair responsibility,” said Ramaphosa.
Despite this, the ILO says the effect of worsening poverty means that 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. This means that we need to intensify our efforts and tackle the challenges we still face with renewed purpose,” Ramaphosa said.
Ramaphosa said one of the most significant challenges is that the dire material conditions facing millions of families around the world often places them in an impossible predicament.
“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.
Another challenge, said Ramaphosa, is 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.”
The president said 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.
“Eliminating child labour is an integral part of our journey as the international community towards achieving social justice, human rights and protection for the most vulnerable.”
Durban Call to Action
President Ramaphosa called on all social partners to adopt a Durban Call to Action that focuses on the practical steps needed to make a difference.
He said that the goal should be to complement the ILO reporting mechanisms without adding more responsibilities on member countries.
Firstly, Ramaphosa said there must be a full implementation of the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention of 1999 by all countries.
He said the convention is a bold statement of intent, but its worth will only be realised if it is consistently and comprehensively implemented.
Secondly, he 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,” he said.
Thirdly, the president said all countries must 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.
“Our experience as South Africa has been that child support grants, fee-free basic education and school feeding schemes have been a lifeline for indigent families. Such initiatives help keep children in school and thus less vulnerable to exploitation,” he said.
Fourthly, Ramaphosa said efforts to end all forms of discrimination against the girl child, particularly with respect to domestic work and access to education, must be intensified.
“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.
Ramaphosa said 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.
Meanwhile, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala said his provincial government, as host of the conference, supports the global campaign for the elimination of child labour.
Delivering welcoming remarks on Sunday, Zikalala said that much more needs to be done to meet the aspirations of the children of South Africa, while simultaneously building a capable and ethical developmental State.
“We recognise that the fundamental transformation that we are building brick by brick to secure the future of our children and to protect them from all forms of exploitation will not come about because we willed it to be so,” he said.
The premier called on everyone to mobilise so that no child is left behind.
“Let us work for a world where every child has a future, a chance for a better life and is safe from exploitative labour,” he said.