By Patrick Quinn
From October to May, Jyontna works in the desolate salt pans of western India, where her parents earn their living raking salt crystals from the ground. The cracked, dry seabed stretches endlessly in every direction. Jyontna and her parents arrive when the monsoons end and the waters recede from the vast plain. Her two younger brothers stay behind in their village, a seven- hour walk from the salt pans.
Jyotna dropped out of school at the age of 10 to help her parents. Now 15 years old, she says that her mother could not afford to let all three children study, so she picked her daughter to work with her. As a result, Jyontna can barely read or write. “My brothers, they will study. They can hope for different things,” she says. “What can I be?”
This story will sound familiar to many around the world concerned with girls’ access to education. It also vividly illustrates the interrelated challenges of addressing child labour and promoting the right of all children to education.
The tenth annual World Day Against Child Labour, with the theme ‘Human rights and social justice: Let’s end child labour’, is on 12 June 2012. An important part of the day’s message is that tackling child labour can also be an important step in ensuring children’s access to education – itself a human right.
Around the world, almost 90 million girls are involved in child labour. They work in agriculture, in the manufacturing sector, and in such services as domestic work. Often this work may be hidden from the public eye, which can lead to particular dangers and risks. Girls, of course, also take on unpaid household work for their families, usually much more so than boys. Girls may also have the ‘double burden’ of combining long hours of household chores with some form of economic activity outside the household.
Behind the problem of child labour is a complicated web of challenges that are also very relevant to the world of education. Providing physical access for children to go to school may not ensure effective participation if the economic circumstances or cultural norms mean that families still send children to work instead of to school. In order to deal with the multidimensional challenges that lie behind child labour, efforts to tackle it are increasingly focused on addressing its root causes through an integrated approach. A global conference on child labour held in the Hague in 2010 adopted a road map that sets out four key areas for government action: adopting and enforcing legislation on child labour; extending and improving access to free, compulsory and quality education for all children, with a particular focus on girls; extending social protection polices and programmes, with a focus on hard-to-reach children; and taking action on labour market policy to support the creation of jobs for young people and adults of working age.
This realistic agenda combines a focus on children’s human rights and social justice. Throughout the past decade or so we have seen significant progress in reducing child labour in a number of countries when governments have pursued an integrated approach using social protection measures to support access to education – often alongside initiatives to strengthen legislation and enforcement on child labour. And yet, taken globally, overall progress in reducing child labour remains too slow, as does progress in increasing school enrolment.
As we mark the 2012 World Day Against Child Labour, we hope that many partners will join in helping to raise awareness of the problem and the need for action at global, national and community levels. Whether it is a media release, statement of support, local community action or school-level event, we hope that you will join us in marking the day on June 12.
Patrick Quinn is Senior Technical Specialist in ILO’s International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor.
Visit the ILO website for more on World Day Against Child Labour