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‘From now on, all children benefit from legal protection against the worst forms of child labour', says a satisfied Guy Ryder, Director-General of the ILO. ‘And that includes slavery, child trafficking, children forced to participate in armed conflict, sexual exploitation and other illicit activities such as drug trafficking and hazardous work.’
Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour was adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1999. With ratification after 21 years, it is the fastest ratified convention in the history of the ILO.
It shows that the international community is strongly committed to the problem. In fact, child labour has been a focus of attention since the ILO was founded in 1919. The first ILO Director-General Albert Thomas called the exploitation of children 'the most unbearable thing to the human heart'.
Within 2 years a convention on a minimum age was adopted, then 14 years for work in mines, construction and transport. The fight against child labour is one of the 'Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work' agreed by ILO member states in 1998.
Still 152 million children at work
And there's progress! Since 2000, almost 100 million fewer children have been victims of child labour. Yet 152 million children still remain at work, 72 million of whom perform hazardous work. 70% of all child labour takes place in agriculture. They are often forced to work because their parents are too poor to make ends meet.
In recent years, child labour has declined less rapidly, especially among young children aged 5 to 11. Moreover, the covid-19 pandemic risks to reverse years of progress.
That is why the UN General Assembly has declared 2021 the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. By 2025, all forms of child labour must be eradicated, as SDG8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals stipulates.
Child labour, and by extension child rights, is also a priority for Belgium. For example, through the Beyond Chocolate initiative, our country wants all Belgian chocolate to be free of child labour. And during its membership of the UN Security Council in 2019-2020, 'children and armed conflicts' has been a top priority.