15 June 2009
On the tenth anniversary of the World Day against Child Labour, UNICEF joins its partners in calling for action to tackle the underlying poverty that leads to child labour. Improving access to quality education, particularly for girls in poor and rural settings, is a key part of an effective overall approach.
Around the world, many of the estimated 100 million girls involved in child labour undertake similar types of work as boys, but often also endure additional hardships and face extra risks. Moreover, girls are all too often exposed to some of the worst forms of child labour, often in work situations that are out of sight, hidden behind the walls of factories, deep in fields or behind the doors of their own homes.
"Many girls work in the same sort of agriculture and manufacturing jobs as boys do, but girls carry a higher burden by taking on long hours for unpaid household inside the home and working elsewhere," said Susan Bissell, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection. "What the public does not see is the domestic work done in other households - this exposes young girls to other dangers and risks."
Cultural and socioeconomic factors influence a family's decision to send girls to school. Girls, especially as they reach puberty, may also be limited by other factors such as the safety of the journey to school or the lack of adequate water and sanitation facilities at schools.
According to the International Labour Organization, the worst forms of child labour include practices such as selling or trafficking children, the forced recruitment of child soldiers, using or offering children for prostitution or the production of pornography, and using, procuring or offering children for illicit activities or any other activities likely to harm children.
The most recent ILO global report on child labour states that in 2004 there were 126 million children engaged in hazardous work that endangers the child's safety, health and development. It is the most vulnerable such as girls, orphans, ethnic and minority groups and street children - the majority of the out-of-school population - who are exploited.
"Education provides a safe environment for children, but when a family has to choose between a boy or a girl attending school, so often the girl loses out," said Bissell. "Improving schooling for children from poor communities, ensuring the availability of flexible and properly funded education programmes for child labourers and other marginalized children, and abolishing tuition fees in primary education are ways to address the conditions that can lead to child labour."
A partnership created in 2000 between UNICEF, IKEA and the Government of India to address the root causes of child labour in the carpet belt of India. As a result, a programme was implemented in 500 villages in the Eastern Uttar Pradesh region of India that made it possible for 80,000 out-of-school children to get an education. Since then, IKEA and UNICEF have aimed to expand coverage by reaching more villages in the carpet and metal ware regions of Uttar Pradesh and the cotton and cottonseed regions of Andhra Pradesh.
The positive progress made during recent years in boosting access to education and reducing child labour could be derailed by the impact of the current global economic and financial crisis, which poses a threat to further progress. While many countries have reached the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education, in many other countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, primary and secondary school attendance rates continue to be low.
The goal of eliminating gender disparity in both primary and secondary education is also far from being met. UNICEF emphasizes that all children - including girls - have a right to an education. Girls with an education are more likely to avoid poverty and ensure that their own children are educated, helping to avoid future child labour. This year is also the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world's largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.