Education is a crucial component of any effective effort to eliminate child labour but poverty often pushes children to work, yet when children leave school early to enter the labor force they are more likely to end up in occupations that limit their chances of breaking out of poverty.
Child labour refers to children who work for those other than their families and normally for a wage; working children are taken to mean those who work as part of family labour, and street children are those who work in semi-urban and urban centres and live either in their employers’ premises or, literally, on the streets. Child labour can limit the time and energy children spend on education and while child labour can be an obstacle to education, at the same time education is instrumental in the prevention of child labour. Through education, parents and children alike become more aware of its benefits, and the harm that child labour can cause.
Experience shows that a combination of economic growth, respect for labour standards, universal education and social protection, together with a better understanding of the needs and rights of children, can bring about a significant reduction in child labour. Child labour is a stubborn problem that, even if overcome in certain places or sectors, will seek out opportunities to reappear in new and often unanticipated ways. The response to the problem must be as versatile and adaptable as child labour itself. There is no simple, quick fix for child labour, nor a universal blueprint for action. Education and child labour are closely linked. The risk of child labour is heightened when education opportunities are either missing or inadequate. Destruction of roads and schools, displacement and prevailing insecurity create physical and distance barriers. When schools are closed or policy and practice block attendance of those children who have missed classes, the likelihood of child labour, child trafficking and other harmful practices such as early marriage increases. Significant risk factors that increase children’s vulnerability to child labour are magnified by emergencies. During and following a crisis, and in the absence of community awareness of the consequences of child labour, factors such as the social exclusion of vulnerable families, discrimination based on ethnicity, disability and gender, rural-urban migration and household indebtedness may be exacerbated, causing children to be withdrawn from school to financially support their families, take on the burden of survival chores, or move away in search of employment.
Over 200 million children, or a massive 20% of all children under the age of 15, are engaged in child labour and they are mostly concentrated in the poorest regions of the world: in Sub‐Saharan Africa 29% of all children work, in Asia‐Pacific 19%, and in Latin America and the Caribbean 16%. Children work across a range of employment sectors, including agriculture (which accounts for 70%), manufacturing, street trading, domestic work, and mining. Many children work because the benefits of working are perceived as greater than those of attending school. These benefits may include economic return, the opportunity to learn a skill, a sense of independence, and higher self‐esteem. The family may also be unable to afford either the actual costs or the opportunity costs of education. This may be one of the most crucial dilemmas of poverty. The quality of education is eroded through increased class sizes, temporary and often cramped school accommodation, different teaching languages and fewer qualified teachers. Pre-existing problems such as irrelevant curricula, costs of school attendance and the distance to other essential services are all compounded by emergencies. Child protection concerns such as family separation, loss of parents or caregivers, children in foster care, physical violence and harmful practices and patterns of migration are all exacerbated by emergencies, and contribute to heightened risks of children entering child labour and reduced attendance at school.
One of the main factors that account for the situation of working children is their lack of education. For many children and youth working in factories or in the street, schools belong to another world; few have ever been in touch with any educational institution, and those who do start primary school often drop out before finishing it. These children tend to be poorly motivated, brought up in an illiterate family environment, not used to the discipline required at school, and their struggle to earn money leaves them neither the time nor the energy to attend regular classes. Very few formal school systems have so far attempted to reach out to these children, and to reconcile the provision of educational services with the harsh reality of child labour.
To prevent such there is need to incorporate emergency preparedness into national policies and programmes to eradicate child labour and to guarantee education and learning to children. Build the capacity of key actors to consider the likely child labour issues that will arise in emergencies. Pay special attention to child labourers, refugee children, internally displaced children, migrant children who were/are managing work and school at the same time and other marginalised groups. Access to mainstream education should be guaranteed as soon as possible, paying equal attention to education and learning for all children, opening primary and secondary schools as soon as possible. Incorporate messages on the importance of education for children, decent work for adolescents, and access to education and learning across all humanitarian activities. Ensure safe, free and quality education for all children in emergency responses. Take special measures to reach current child labourers and to prevent new children dropping out of school and entering the labour market too early or under harmful conditions after an emergency, they will need coordinated but different strategies to increase their attendance. Reach out to marginalised families who are most vulnerable to child labour. Involve children and young people in responses to emergencies through education, peer-topeer support and messaging, youth groups and mentoring.
Article by Blessing Bassey