Monday, October 29, 2012

The next big development goal: child labor

The United Nations may have found its next big development project, ending child labor. The U.N. will unveil plans today to eliminate child labor by 2020. A new study by the U.N. shows that child labor will not decrease in the developing countries that are now seeing economic growth. The report predicts that there will still be 190 million child laborers in 2020 if nothing is done.

From the Guardian, writer Randeep Ramesh talks about the new development goal.
A UN report – to be launched on Monday morning by the UN's special envoy on education, the former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown – warns that unless the issue is tackled, the internationally agreed millennium development goal that all children should complete primary school by 2015 will not be achieved. Child labour, the UN says, "exacerbates the risk of being out of school. In India, non-attendance rates for child labourers are twice the level for children not involved in child labour."

The research says the "sheer scale of child labour is not widely recognised". About 60 million under-17-year-olds are involved in global agriculture. Mining, it says, is a "magnet" for child labour, with children as young as six digging shafts and scuttling around mounds of rock with little more than a hammer and chisel. Around half of the workforce in Afghanistan's brick kilns is aged under 14. In Ethiopia almost 60% of children work.

Multinational companies also come under fire. The report points out that in China, underage labour recruited by networks of agents from poor rural areas "has been found in factories supplying companies such as Apple, Samsung and Google".

It also chides industry for failing in the past to keep its side of the bargain in tackling the problem. US chocolate companies, the UN notes, had promised to educate all children in areas where it grew cocoa in west Africa – a commitment that would cost the industry $75m or 0.1% of annual sales. Instead it spent about $20m over eight years and reached just 4% of children in cocoa-growing communities in Ivory Coast and 30% in Ghana.

The UN says that the first step would be to make education compulsory for all children – and perhaps go as far as paying families to send their children to school, an approach that has worked in Brazil. This would mean that by 2015 an extra $13bn in funding would be needed.

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