The World of International Organizations

ILO child labor treaty gains universal backing

A child laborer in Madagascar (AN/Rod Waddington)

GENEVA — The International Labor Organization announced on Tuesday that a two decade-old convention outlawing the worst forces of child labor has gained universal ratification among all of its 187 member nations.

The United Nations’ labor agency said it took 21 years for the global treaty known as Convention 182 to gain acceptance among virtually all the world’s nations. Tonga became the 187th nation to join on Tuesday.

“Universal ratification of Convention 182 is a historic first that means that all children now have legal protection against the worst forms of child labor,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said in a statement.

“It reflects a global commitment,” he said, “that the worst forms of child labor, such as slavery, sexual exploitation, the use of children in armed conflict or other illicit or hazardous work that compromises children’s health, morals or psychological well-being, have no place in our society.”

An estimated 152 million children between the ages of five and 17 are involved in child labor, including 73 million subjected to “hazardous work” conditions. About 7-in-10 work in agriculture mostly because their families are impoverished.

Some 40 million children are considered victims of modern slavery, according to ILO estimates. But the worst forms of child labor dropped by almost 40 percent between 2000 and 2016 as nations adopted laws and policies to conform to Convention 182 and another ILO treaty, Convention 138, which sets minimum ages for work, ILO said.

Indian activist and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, who campaigns against child labor, said universal ratification of Convention 182 is a victory for millions of children and activists who marched 80,000 kilometers in 103 nations with the 1998 Global March against Child Labor.

In the past 22 years, he said, the world has reduced the number of child laborers to 152 million, down from 250 million, but “an entire generation” has been lost to slavery during that time. Global March Against Child Labor, based in New Delhi, India, is now an international movement of non-governmental organizations, trade unions and teacher associations spanning 144 countries.

“We cannot afford to lose another generation. It is now time for universal accountability to end child labor,” he said in a statement. “Let there be no doubt, the ongoing pandemic and economic crisis will lead to a substantial increase in child labor around the world. The challenge is enormous, but it is not insurmountable.”

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