Child labour can, and must, be eradicated

Child labour is one of the very few human rights abuses we know how to end, and we must, writes Catherine Chen

When children are recruited to work, whether as domestic servants, brick moulders, or miners, it is typically because they are considered easier to control and intimidate than adults.

They demand less pay, if any, and aren’t equipped to stand up for their rights.  As a result, they are disproportionately more vulnerable to violence, abuse, and exploitation.

Yet, child labour is one of the very few human rights abuses we know how to end. I have met children toiling as workers across Asia, Africa, Central America, and Eastern Europe. Regardless of the context, the culture, the industry, or the child, evidence suggests the solution is nearly universal: school.

When a child works instead of attending school, she or he is deprived of the knowledge and skills that come with an education—resigning them to a cycle of poverty that is perpetuated by low skills and low-wage labour.

So how can we, as a philanthropic community, help to eradicate child labour?

We can invest in quality teaching, not just in building schools. It is critical that teachers and curriculum can adapt to a child’s learning pace, to their parents’ seasonal migration for work, and to the struggles of reintegrating back into school.

We can support smart interventions that bolster economic stability and resilience so vulnerable families can withstand economic setbacks and still invest in their children’s academic future.

It is important we advocate for policy change. 179 countries have ratified the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, but laws must be applied to small enterprises and household work, which often operate outside of regulatory frameworks.

We also need to engage local and global markets as part of changing the system of child labour. Create market incentives that reward fair labour producers and penalise those that employ children.

I have seen what happens to a child who faces the burden of work, and I have witnessed firsthand the power of thoughtful interventions to get that child back into school.  The difference is astounding. Child labour can be eradicated, and it must be.

About the writer

Catherine Chen is director of investments for Humanity United, a US-based foundation dedicated to building peace and advancing human freedom.

Photo credit: Gary Yim / Shutterstock