ILO Buenos Aires conference: Why the silence of children’s voices is deafening

by Tim Pilkington | World Vision UK
Tuesday, 14 November 2017 12:53 GMT

In this 2009 archive photo a Congolese boy pans for gold on a riverside at Iga Barriere, 25 kms (15 miles) from Bunia, in the resource-rich Ituri region of eastern Congo. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

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Why are there no children participating in a conference convened to discuss their rights and needs?

As I scanned the programme for the IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour starting today in Buenos Aires, I was struck by a glaring omission: the voices of children themselves.

Why are there no children participating in a conference convened to discuss their rights and needs?

The conference comes amid growing concern that the global community will struggle to achieve Target 8.7 of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. This commits countries to eliminating all forms of child labour by 2025.

Two months ago, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) revealed data indicating this target won’t be met unless efforts to fight modern slavery and child labour are dramatically increased.

According to ILO findings, at least 152 million children around the world are victims of child labour. The plight of millions of children forced to toil in fields, mines, brick kilns. The most vulnerable children are subject the very worst forms of child labour, forced into sexual exploitation or recruited as soldiers. This is a blot on the conscience of the world. It has no place in the 21st century.

Nothing will change in a lasting or meaningful way for children if they do not have a say in their future and if their voices are not heard. They are the most important stakeholders in this particular issue. Indeed, it is their inalienable right to be involved.

I believe that their absence from the plenary floor at the ILO Child Labour conference that will run in Argentina for the next three days is a missed opportunity. Granted, the inclusion of youth ambassadors who are 18 and older is a welcome one. However, one wonders if theirs is a broad enough representation of all the stresses, pressures and challenges that children are facing globally.

We shouldn’t lose sight of the objective of this gathering, which we take as a sincere attempt to build momentum towards ending child labour. But surely there should be nothing about children, without children.

Children and young people constantly tell us that participation in public policy debates is a major priority for them. They want to make themselves heard and we work with young leaders from across Asia, Africa, South America and Europe to give them a voice.

As 16-year-old Justice from Ghana said: "Children are mostly unskilled and provide a cheap source of labour, making them an attractive option for many greedy employers. Can you imagine that these greedy employers in my country employ children as young as 13 years of age? These children work on construction fields, cocoa farms and stone quarries as well as in the mines."

World Vision empowers children to advocate - to participant in decisions that affect their lives.  In Uganda, Armenia and Bangladesh, peace clubs, child parliaments and children's clubs enable children to transform their own lives and that of their communities. We have seen time and time again how effective child advocates can be. The key is for adults to listen.  

World Vision is running a global campaign, called It Takes A World, to end violence against children. We believe child labour is an unrecognised, ubiquitous and pernicious form of violence. It must be tackled by strengthening child protection systems, enshrining children’s rights in law, investing in free quality education and holding corporations to account.

The world needs to come together to end child labour. This includes governments, the private sector, trade unions, NGOs and consumers. But most of all it should include at its heart children and their families.

Tim Pilkington is the CEO of World Vision UK.