Roughly 168 million children around the world are trapped in child labor, according to an International Labour Organization (ILO) report released Wednesday. And while 20-30 percent of children in low-income countries leave school to start jobs by the minimum working age of 15, even more drop out before then.
According to the ILO, children who miss out on their education to enter the workforce early will wind up in low or unpaid jobs as adults, which in turn will force their own kids to work early and keep the wheel of poverty turning.
Quality education, therefore, is key to ending child labor, the organization stressed.
“Keeping children in school and receiving a good education until at least the minimum age of employment will determine the whole life of a child,” said ILO Director General Guy Ryder. “It is the only way for a child to acquire the basic knowledge and skills needed for further learning, and for her or his future working life.”
Child labor, as defined by the organization, is “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.” The Asia-Pacific region, including Vietnam, Indonesia and Cambodia, has the largest number of child laborers with nearly 78 million.
Although there is one-third fewer children working today than there were 15 years ago, around 75 million 15- to 24-year-olds are currently unemployed around the world and the ILO blames their shortage of job prospects on their lack of education.
Now the organization is urging global governments to come up with a coherent policy approach that tackles child labor, including early intervention through free, compulsory and quality education that continues through to the country’s legal working age, and social protection that prevents families from pulling kids out of school to work during times of economic instability.
“National policies should be directed towards removing children and young people from hazardous jobs and, of course, towards removing the hazards in the workplace,” Ryder said.
Kailash Satyarthi, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate who will address the ILO’s International Labor Conference on Thursday, said, “When we consider our biological children, we think that they are born to become doctors, engineers and professors… Let us consider all children our children.”