World Report on Child Labour - Economic vulnerability, social protection and the fight against child labour

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Between 2000 and 2008 the number of child labourers worldwide fell by some 30 million.
Notwithstanding this progress, at the end of that period there were still over 215 million child labourers, and over half of them were doing hazardous work. Moreover, the overall downward trend masked rising numbers of children in economic activity in sub-Saharan Africa from 2004 to 2008 (ILO, 2010d). While these numbers underscore the magnitude of the remaining challenge facing the global community, they also convey a clear message of hope – progress against child labour is possible with sound policy choices and substantial national and international commitment.

Yet 2008, the reference year for the last ILO global child labour estimates, already seems a long time ago.1 Since then the world has seen an economic crisis widely viewed as the most severe since the Second World War, ushering in a period of prolonged economic uncertainty and slow growth. Although the crisis originated in the financial markets of industrialized countries, globalization has seen its effects spread to the developing world. Social consequences have varied widely from country to country, but everywhere poor and vulnerable populations have borne the brunt of the crisis and its aftermath.

What can be done under these more difficult circumstances to ensure more – and faster – progress in tackling child labour? And how can policies to reduce child labour fit within a broader framework aimed at improving the quality of life and ensuring decent work for those at greatest risk from economic hardship? These are among the policy challenges that this World Report on Child Labour addresses. In doing so, we bring together two developmental goals that, while logically linked, have often stood apart: eliminating child labour, and achieving universal coverage of at least an adequate minimum level of social security.

The report argues that child labour is driven in part by household vulnerabilities associated with poverty, risk and shocks, and that social security is critical to mitigating these vulnerabilities. Following on from this, the overall aims of the report are, first, to highlight the relevance of social security as part of a broader strategy for eliminating child labour; and, second, to help advance understanding of the specific ways in which social security systems can support efforts against child labour.

An evidence-based approach is followed throughout the report in pursuing these overall aims. The report relies specifically on evidence from rigorous impact evalua-tions of specific social protection instruments and interventions. The exclusive reliance on such evidence has the disadvantage of restricting the scope of the analysis, as some instruments of potential relevance to child labour, such as maternity protection, are not included as they have not yet been subject to rigorous evaluation from a child labour perspective. At the same time, however, setting this high standard for evidence has the important advantage of providing as solid a basis as possible for policy conclusions.

The report begins with a background discussion of standards, concepts and policy frameworks. It then proceeds conceptually from a discussion of the impact of poverty and shocks in rendering households vulnerable to child labour, to an analysis of the role of social protection in mitigating the impact of poverty and shocks and in reducing child labour, and finally to a forward-looking discussion of how child labour concerns can be more effectively “mainstreamed” within integrated, child-sensitive social security systems.