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International Partnerships

The time to act to end child labour is now


This year is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour which calls on all of us the importance to end child labour and step up efforts for impactful and sustainable actions.

We are publishing an article every month on different themes related to child labour and you can find links to each month’s article below. This month marks the World Day Against Child Labour and the “Week of Action” where everyone has the opportunity to take a stand and commit to ending child labour, once and for all.

Alarming new figures show child labour is worsening

This month saw therelease of the new Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward report. The report has brought to light the alarming finding that child labour is on the rise for the first time in 20 years and millions of children are at risk due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of children in child labour has increased to 160 million worldwide. Additional 8.4 million children are in labour from 2016 estimates.

Most worryingly, the report finds a significant rise in the number of children aged 5 to 11 years in child labour, who now account over half of the total figure. The number of children aged 5 to 17 years in hazardous work, defined as work that is likely to harm their health, safety or morals, has risen by 6.5 million to 79 million in only four years.

This all means that the chances of meeting the international SDG target 8.7 on ending child labour in all its forms by 2025, are fast slipping away unless urgent, sustained and coordinated action is not taken immediately.

Portrait of a former child labourer, Credit: ILO

The EU stands committed to taking action

The EU has continuously worked to address its root causes by tackling poverty, inequalities, increasing access to quality education, promoting due diligence for sustainable supply chains, and support governments, local actors and businesses, especially in the most affected countries.

The European Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, has said: “the fight against child labour is not only a top priority for the EU, but it is also particularly close to my heart. Every child in every part of the world deserves a peaceful and secure childhood and the chance to go to school and receive quality education, which is why I have made this a priority of my mandate… I am proud to say that since 2008, the EU has been supporting 150 projects targeting child labour in 65 countries and in various sectors, for around €200 million."

Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen on a visit to Burkina Faso in February 2020
Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen on a visit to Burkina Faso in February 2020
© European Union

At the very beginning of her mandate, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, made a commitment to step up the EU’s fight against child labour to the next level, by pledging a zero-tolerance policy on child labour in new trade agreements. The recently adopted EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child is another milestone in implementing this commitment in our external action.

The EU has longstanding partnerships with our partner countries around the world who are spearheading the fight against child labour and other partners, including EU Member States and international organisations, such as the ILO, UNICEF and the FAO

An example of our work is the CLEAR Cotton project that is seeking to eliminate child labour and forced labour in the cotton, textile and garment value chains. It is an illustration of the great work we have done together with the ILO and the FAO. The project has to date removed around 4 000 children from child labour in cotton fields in Burkina Faso and Mali, and reintegrated them into special schools before joining formal education.

Child working in a cotton field in Sudan. Credit: ILO

What needs to be done

In order to tackle the problem, we first need to analyse the causes and drivers of child labour. Child labour is both the cause and the consequence of poverty and inequalities, but also the violation of basic human rights namely the right to education, decent work, living wages for adults, social protection and the right to a life in dignity.

Increasing access to quality education is one of the most effective ways to reduce child labour. An extremely worrying finding from the new global estimates report is that an additional 16 million girls and boys in sub-Saharan Africa are being denied access to school, compared to the 2016 estimates. This is unacceptable as every child in the world deserves the chance to go to school and to receive education.

As 70% of child labourers are found in agriculture, this is where most attention is required. There are children working all day under tough conditions, that are physically not suited to their ages and exposed to dangers affecting their health and well-being. A multi-pronged approach that promotes inclusive rural transformation and rural development in all aspects is necessary.

The private sector has a big role to play. The EU promotes the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and is currently working on new legislation to introduce mandatory due diligence for EU companies across all sectors with the view to address issues such as child labour and to increase supply chain sustainability.

The EU is supporting sustained local, regional and international partnerships, that include all key players, with our partner countries in the driving seat. Increasing the capacities and commitment of central and local governments to enact and enforce child labour legislation and policies is crucial. We are calling for a concerted effort to ramp up implementation, monitoring and remediation mechanisms to combat child labour and support the reintegration of victims into education and training.

Study on ending child labour in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana published

A new report commissioned by the European Commission’s department for International Partnerships on ending child labour and promoting sustainable cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana has been published. The report presents the overall challenges related to ending child labour, assesses the situation of child labour in cocoa in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and puts forward a comprehensive set of recommendations for all stakeholders. Read the full report here and the executive summary in English here and in French here.


Join us on the journey to end child labour

The EU will continue to explore new areas and innovative and effective approaches to eradicate child labour, in cooperation with existing initiatives and alliances. And to raise awareness of all actors on this unacceptable reality: everybody can play a role even if very little. The 2022 global conference on child labour in South Africa will be instrumental in this regard: the EU is ready to actively participate and commit to further work with all actors towards an ambitious outcome by 2025.

We call on all others to step-up their actions: governments, private sector, civil society, communities, trade unions and other stakeholders. If not, we risk losing another generation of children to child labour.

The time to act is now!

Event to mark the World Day Against Child Labour by the EU Delegation to Ghana. Credit: EU

Song competition winner has been announced

As part of the international year, a song competition was organised to harness the power of music to help combat child labour.The Music Against Child Labour Competition called on the world's musicians to create a song to raise awareness and inspire action on ending child labour.

Running from February to May 2021, the competition received entries by artists from over 50 countries in all regions of the world, submitting more than 200 songs.

The official winners of the 2021 Music Against Child Labour competition as decided by the celebrity jury were Bernice from Burkina Faso, who won the global category, and MCAZ Students Band from Zimbabwe, who won the grassroots category

The Clear Cotton category, organised with the support of the EU funded CLEAR Cotton project were Benewend from Burkina Faso, Virginie Dembélé from Mali, Ahmed Faraz from Pakistan, and José Zevallos del Carpio from Peru

Listen to all of the winning songs here.

Laura Pausini, the award winning artist, when announcing the winner said: “Despite our diverse values and cultures, we stand together against child labour. This is a loud call for a better and brighter future for all the world’s children.


Additional resources

Read our previous monthly articles exploring different themes on child labour for the International Year: