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To build back better we have to reverse the outrageous increase in child labour
By Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and the founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, Global March Against Child Labour, and GoodWeave International.
As vaccination rates rise and death tolls decrease for their people, the leaders of seven of the world’s richest countries have assembled in Cornwall. But will they consider a shocking new United Nations report which shows the consequences of our growing global inequality on our children?
Nine-year-old David works as a rag picker in Kenya. He earns just a dollar a day. Barefoot, he jumps across heaps of garbage, often injured by glass and industrial waste. David is one of the millions of children in our world who are child labourers – forced to work to survive at the expense of their childhood and future.
The new U.N. data shows that even before the pandemic began in 2020, there were 16.8 million more children aged 5-11 in child labour than in 2016. Yet, during the same four years, global wealth rose by $10 trillion. Why, in a world that has more money than ever, are we forcing millions more of our young children to toil in our fields, mines, and factories?
Because of inequality and discrimination. We have witnessed it in the global response to the pandemic. Of the $8 trillion released as COVID-19 relief funds to support businesses and people in 2020, a disgraceful 0.13% was allocated to multilateral funding for low-income countries. Some leaders have been so inhumane that they have even reduced aid to the poorest countries in the middle of the worst health emergency in a century, with the G7 host the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing an appalling cut of $5.6 billion.
Leaders of rich countries must acknowledge that their wealth was not created within the bubble of their own countries. Their wealth is also the product of the labour of millions of adults and children in poorer countries and built through the use and exploitation of their natural resources. Yet, when a common crisis hit humanity, we have left the poorest countries to fend for themselves.
Child labour exists not because the world doesn’t have enough resources to end it, but because of how the resources are allocated. Ask yourself what do the millions of children who grow our food and make our clothes look like? For many communities a childhood in servitude has never ended. Global inequality is becoming so extreme that last year the 22 richest men in the world had more wealth than all the women in Africa. As a result, Sub Saharan Africa now accounts for more child labour than the rest of the world combined. How rich do we have to become before we will decide to end the slavery and exploitation of millions of our children?
There are welcome exceptions in governments that have shown commendable leadership against discriminatory policies. U.S. President Joe Biden's efforts to expand vaccine access and increase corporate tax are laudable – it is fundamentally the right thing to do. France and Germany have put their weight behind the social protection and elimination of child labour from global supply chains respectively. Their influence must now be exercised across the European Union.
The G7 holds the majority of the world's wealth and power. Not one low-income country has been invited to the G7, even as they remain the most severely impacted by the pandemic. As a result, child labour is not being discussed even though this is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour.
The solution, as proven in rich countries decades ago, is access to basic welfare.
For this, the world must come together and create a $100 billion global social protection fund that could provide a safety net for every child in low-income countries – this is less than one week of the G7’s expenditure on COVID-19 relief funds last year.
Lower-income countries must also prioritise social protection in their own spending with a minimum of 1% of GDP budgeted for direct child benefits. These are clear, simple and affordable steps.
To build back better we have to reverse this outrageous increase in child labour. We know what needs to be done, and we have the means. We just need the political will. The G7 must ensure a fair share for every child.