Brasilia — As the III Global Conference on Child Labour kicks off here, UNICEF says an integrated approach by governments, international organizations, civil society, private sector and children and their families is the key to ending child labour.
UNICEF welcomed recent figures from ILO showing that child labour for children aged five to 17 years old has declined by a third since 2000, from 246 million to 168 million children. This is good news, as child labour is a serious child rights violation with lifelong negative consequences for children's physical, mental and social development.
However, the rate of decline is still not enough to reach the goal of eliminating the worst form of child labour by 2016.
In a new report by UNICEF, Child Labour and UNICEF in Action: Children at the Centre, the children's agency says that more progress can be made by addressing the root causes of child labour in a holistic manner. Policy makers and advocates must look at the entire range of children's vulnerabilities and protection challenges.
"We cannot tackle child labour in isolation and expect dramatic results," said Susan Bissell, UNICEF's global head of Child Protection. "This conference is an opportunity to emphasize the urgent need to combine our efforts to combat child labour, end violence against children, and strengthen national systems for the protection of children."
The full range of children's vulnerabilities is not always taken into account in the design and implementation of programmes against child labour. For example, the numbers of children begging on the streets or other out-of-school children cannot be significantly reduced without also looking at the problems at home or in schools that have forced them onto the streets.
Children often face multiple risks at once.
"A child at risk of being trafficked may also be in conflict with the law, face violence at home, be orphaned, or have a disability," said Bissell. "This means we have to look at solving their problems from a number of angles simultaneously."
UNICEF's approach to preventing and responding to child labour involves providing access to basic services, strengthening national child protection systems and promoting social change.
UNICEF has been working with governments in several countries to roll out programmes against child labour.
In Nepal, for example, UNICEF has focussed on developing a comprehensive child protection system in urban areas. As a result, more than 9,000 children who had been trapped in some of the worst forms of child labour, and separated from their families, were reunited and provided with assistance for shelter, food, clothes and health care.
As well as receiving psycho-social counselling, mediation with parents and employers and legal help, they were also given cash assistance to return to school or enter vocational training, while their families received income-generating support to ease the financial burden. Another 10,000 children at risk, along with their families, have been offered counselling, livelihood and education support.
UNICEF emphasizes that action against child labour must be as interconnected as its causes. It involves supporting families, improving the quality of education, preventing violence in homes and schools, addressing poverty and inequity, and changing the cultural acceptance of child labour in communities, so that all children can enjoy the kind of childhood parents everywhere aspire to provide.