ILO Director-General praises Viet Nam’s efforts in elimination of child labour
ILO Director-General Guy Ryder speaks at the conference. (Photo: VNA)
Vietnam is one of the Pathfinder countries of the Alliance 8.7. What does it mean to the fight in Chapter Eight labour and like, what can Viet Nam in particular, and other parts of the countries in general do to further contribute to the fight?
Alliance 8.7 is a global alliance of governments, civil society organisations and international organisations to fight against child labour, and indeed forced labour. And we're very pleased that Vietnam has joined as one of 26 pioneer countries. What does that mean? It means that Viet Nam is putting his hand up and volunteering to make a particular accelerated effort to get rid of child labour. And this is not just something on paper. We're actually doing major activities with Viet Nam and Viet Nam is making important progress. I'm very pleased at Viet Nam. I think it was back in 2018 conducted the child labour survey and National Child Labour survey. So you know what the problem is. You have a national policy to get rid of child labour. We are doing good cooperative work with Viet Nam to try to build capacities and to make sure that your legislation which has been put in place produces results. All of this is concrete. It's for real, it's not theory. And I think that one of the reasons in my judgment that makes it so important to Vietnam is as your country becomes more integrated into the global economy into global supply chains, and also concluding important trading agreements, not least with the European Union, where there is a strong interest in labour standards, Viet Nam has clearly decided that it wants to be seen to be making a very serious effort in respect of child labour.
So at this point, I'm extremely pleased with that cooperation. And I'm optimistic because it is concrete, that it's going to produce good results for Viet Nam, and of course, the global effort against child labour. So this is good news.
Can you brief us on the situation of child labour globally? Why is child labour still happening in the world? And do you see any differences among countries and continents in the form of child labour?
Indeed, the situation in the world today is that there are 160 million children in child labour at the moment. And to give you an idea, that means 9.6 percent of all children are in child labour. That's a big number. But the good news is that at the beginning of the century in the year 2000, that figure was 245 million, and the percentage was 16 percent. So in two decades, we've come down very considerably, this is a big success. The bad news, however, is since 2016, slowly the figures are going back up again, even before COVID-19. And with COVID-19, we have to worry that the figures are going back up once more. So I think that the challenge of this conference is to regain the momentum that we have lost and try to meet the international goal which was set by the United Nations, which was to eliminate child labour by 2025. We're not on track, and we have to get back on track.
Now you asked me about the different regions. The progress I've mentioned at the global level, has a very clear regional dimension. The Asia Pacific region where Vietnam of course is located, has had major successes. It's brought down child labour very quickly and very considerably. The same is true, more or less in Latin America, which also had big declines. The major challenge I think now resides in Africa, where actually numbers are going up and going up quite strongly. The percentage of children in work in child labour in Sub Saharan Africa is more than 23 percent. So the global average of 9.6 percent is more than doubled here in Africa. And that's one of the reasons we've come to Durban in South Africa to renew the struggle.
As we are in Durban right now, how would you evaluate the progress of the elimination of child labour from the previous four conferences? What have been done? What have not? What can we expect from this conference?
As I've said, we had our first conference in 1997. And since then, we've reduced child labour by about one third. And this is an enormous achievement. And I can't say all of that is because of the conferences. But what the conferences have helped to do is to establish a global understanding of what it takes to beat child labour, what the real levers of policy are, and then to increase commitment to use those levers. So what do we need to do? Well, two things are very clear. Education and accessible education is a key weapon against child labour. If parents have the option of sending their children to school and they can afford to, they will do that. So education is vital.
The second is social protection. You know, we know that parents don't wish their children to work. Very often they have to make their children work because family income is too low to sustain the family. So we need to see that this is the second weapon of social protection, income support for poor families, which makes it more possible for them to avoid child labour.
So these are two levers that we've used very effectively. I think there's a third level as well. And that is making sure that parents have decent work. They have work that gives them a sufficient income, that they're out of poverty and their children do not have to work. And we've seen these things working. This is not a theory. It's practice.
There is, of course, I think, an international solidarity part to all of this. It is absolutely essential that the global community not only set the target of eliminating child labour, but actually helped support through financing efforts to remove child labour.
Mentioning COVID-19, how has the pandemic affected the ILO’s strategy in technical support to countries?
What we need to understand is COVID-19 is a health emergency and of course, it came to Viet Nam very late at the beginning you were the miracle country that avoided COVID-19. But COVID-19 has brought a dramatic social and economic crisis.
Our estimates are that in terms of jobs lost - an income loss. COVID-19 has had four times more impact negative impact than the financial crisis of 2008-2009. We haven't seen a crisis like this for decades. So this was dramatic, and unsurprisingly, this has probably had an influence on child labour.
In the first instance, it might be surprising. It probably reduced child labour because as things closed down and enterprises closed down, children also stopped working but as the lockdowns began to be relaxed, and because people are more vulnerable, and there's more poverty, we think that there are more child children at work because of COVID-19. And one estimate, we have still had to be confirmed is that probably COVID has brought nearly 9 million extra child labourers. So this is quite a dramatic thing and makes our job even more difficult.
What is your message to the world leaders on how to speed up the fight against child labour?
I think there are two or three things. Firstly, let's not forget that when the United Nations adopted its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we did that in 2015. We all decided we would get rid of child labour. It wasn't an obligation. We decided to do it. So we have to be honest, and try to keep our efforts going. Secondly, I really do understand that the global economy is not easy. There are multiple crises breaking out in the world, but it is our responsibility to keep child labour centerstage. Don't forget about it. Because as many people have said in our conference today, the future depends on our children, and we need to give them the best start.