A call for action to fight against child labor

Photo: UNICEF Nepal

Simone Galimberti

  • Read Time 5 min.

The recently commemorated World Environment Day and the launch of a new UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration have rightly commanded broad media coverage in Nepal and elsewhere. Yet, if there is something the ongoing pandemic has taught us it is that most pressing issues faced by humanity must be tackled through a different approach, inequities and inequalities must be forcefully fought against and better services and provisions in the fields of public health and public education will have to rely on a much stronger social security framework able to have children at the core of their interventions.

Safety nets including child grants can have a huge impact in reducing vulnerabilities among children and their families and these should have been a priority in the budget the government recently promulgated through ordinance.

While the Supreme Court will decide the fate of Prime Minister Oli’s government and with that, the final destiny of the budget, policy makers at federal, provincial and local levels must start rethinking the impact of their decisions on the most vulnerable and deprived children and plan more evidence-based impactful actions.

In the past years, UNICEF in Nepal has been a great advocate of child grants that are basically cash transfers to directly support children and their families. Currently, there are some of these programs in place in the country but cover only six percent of the children population—mainly the children from Dalit families and vulnerable children in Karnali.

A recent study conducted by Human Rights Watch on the impact of the pandemic over vulnerable children in Nepal, Uganda and Ghana, underscores what a positive impact such social protection measures can have on all those children adversely affected by the pandemic.

Fighting child labor

It’s also a call for action for policy makers and the whole society to step up their efforts to fight child labor, an area where Nepal had achieved, pre-pandemic, important results, with the number of working children being reduced from 1.6 million to 1.1 million. This is an important reduction according to a recent report but one that still leaves too many vulnerable kids deprived of their rights.

Safety nets including child grants can have a huge impact in reducing vulnerabilities among children and their families.

Adding the consequences of Covid-19 on the most disadvantaged groups of the population, there is no doubt that we will see a significant reversal of these positive trends with much higher numbers of working children. The issue of child labor is important for the whole country and there is no doubt that it should become a national rallying cry for the entire nation, one of the top challenges for Nepal, together with climate change, employment creation and more effective and equitable health and educational services.

It’s also a question of honor and pride as the country has been identified as one of the so-called “Pathfinders” nations that can truly end child labor that, according to the National Master Plan (NMP-II) to End Child Labor (2018-2028), should be totally eradicated by 2025 and in its worst forms by 2022.

Considering the complex and broad dynamics of a variety of local supply chains, where child labor is often embedded as key ingredient of the local economy, formal and informal, meeting these goals is going to be daunting.

A national consciousness needs to emerge if we want child labor to end but it is essential to ensure the emergence of collective actions also because it affects all of us.

A report recently released by ILO, UNICEF and the Central Bureau of Statistics depicts a very worrying scenario in relation to the brick industry with thousands of children being engaged as laborers, often supporting their parents working in the kilns. “An estimated 34,593 children (between ages of five and 17) are living in brick kilns. Children account for approximately 10% (17,738) of total workers, and 96% of these working children (17,032) were identified as being in child labor” read the press release of the Report on Employment Relationship Survey in the Brick Industry in Nepal.

We all know even earlier on that the brick industry was an enabler of child labor but now we have clear, undeniable data and we cannot pretend to overlook the facts on the ground any more.

We could assume that the vast majority if not all of the houses and offices we live and work could not have been erected without child labor. 

Does it mean that we are all silent complicit?

Do something

If we keep doing nothing, my answer would be yes. We cannot just delegate such problems to the government and then complain that it is not doing enough. On the contrary, the simple fact that Nepal got selected by ILO and the international community to be in the Pathfinders initiative indicates that the government has shown leadership in this issue.

A national consciousness needs to emerge if we want to eliminate child labor. It is also essential to ensure collective actions.

Moreover, the Nepal Child Labor Report 2021 published at the end of April is another significant milestone to better understand the wide ramifications of child labor in our society and economy.

The findings are clear: Despite the improvements, there are no shortcuts to solve the issue unless a new holistic approach is taken.

In another publication Covid-19 and Child Labor: a Time of Crisis, a Time to act, ILO and UNICEF make a joint case to invest in social protection as the most effective tool to mitigate and eventually eliminate the number of working children around the world.

There is no doubt that elders deserve better financial support in the forms of pensions and this is what the government has done by increasing the monthly allowance for the elderly but vulnerable kids also need that kind of support. That’s the reason why policy makers at all levels should start a concerted effort to plan a total revamp of cash support provisions for children and the civil society, including youth, should become more vocal raising this issue.

The state must do much more and roll out a national program to support children at risk. It needs to keep working with national and international partners through a strengthened and more visible Interagency Working Group that deals with child labor.

Let’s also not forget that, though it might have been overlooked, this year has been proclaimed as International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor something that should add further momentum to take action in Nepal. Once domestic child workers were something taken for granted by all.

This is changing now and the same should happen for all other working kids, from those involved in the public transport to those engaged in local canteens, construction sites, and kiln factories.

Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities. Views are personal. He can be reached at [email protected].