Protecting Africa’s Children from Child Labour

Now, more than ever, Africa must expedite action to preserve the rights of children and restore their dignity.

It is a huge shame that at least 160 million children across the world are in some form of child labour. For the first time in 20 years,the campaign to end child labour has stalled.

Child labourers can be found the supply chains of some of the world’s largest multi-national corporations. Global estimates of child labour indicate that with over 80 million African child labourers, one in every five children in Africa are involved in some sort of child labour.

This disturbing indicator is more than twice as high as it is in other regions of the world. Thirty-five million from this number are involved in life-threatening, dangerous and hazardous jobs.

In spite of the progress against child labour across the world, child labour worsened in Sub-Saharan Africa between 2010 and 2020, in contrast to continued progress elsewhere in the world.

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Now, more than ever, Africa must expedite action to preserve the rights of children and restore their dignity. There’s a pressing need of protecting underage children trapped in slavery; some chaperoning older handicapped mendicant parents; many forced into unpaid employment and trafficking; forced to partake in armed conflict…while some are used for illicit activities like gunrunning, drug-peddling, prostitution, and pornography.

Children digging through rocks for cobalt in Kolwezi,DR Congo

Beyond targeted policies implemented by African governments to combat child labour, the retrogression might have been driven by broader environmental, economic and demographic forces acting against government initiatives.

Although the universal ratification of Convention 182, on the eve of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour in 2021 remains promising, political crisis, internecine conflicts, famines, deforestation, internal displacements, flooding, locust invasions, climatic changes continue to impact state fragility and worsen crisis thereby heightening the risk of child labour.

Ugandan children on the streets trying to make ends meet

In Africa’s most populous nation, parents enjoy the benefits of having numerous children because the cost of raising them is lower as one out of three children between 7-14 years are involved is some menial jobs.

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The largest share of child labour is in the Agricultural sector which includes subsistence farming, hawking wares and livestock herding which is often hazardous in its nature thus endangering their health, personal safety and moral development.

Many others are found in industries, the service sector, and domestic work which are poorly renumerated or unpaid. While some children in child labour are in unpleasant employment relationship with a third-party employer, most work on family farms and family enterprises especially for ageing parents to meet family needs.

Children across the world work in some dangerous fields

Child labour is everyone’s business. Young adults should not be heard or seen working in fields but on dreams. It distresses everyone and its ripple effects affect individuals, societies, corporate bodies, and government.

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Source: Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward, ILO and UNICEF, New York, 2021

Comprehensive regional policies must prioritise children’s access to free, quality public education; strengthening and legislating communal sensitization; extending social protection systems, protecting vulnerable populations in situations of conflict and disaster while ensuring fair and equitable migration governance in order to better the lives of African children.

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