The Future of Children Lies in Our Hands

Social protection as a means to end child labour

A few weeks ago, UNICEF and the ILO published a joint report on how more than a billion children under 15 years old lack critical social protection worldwide. The Director of the Social Protection Department of the ILO states universal social protection paves the way to sustainable development and social justice. Lack of social protection makes children more vulnerable for child labour. Social protection is one of the main goals of the ILO in the light of a human-centred approach to the future of work. These goals sound very promising. What is social protection actually, and how can it decrease child labour?

The abolition of child labour is a core labour standard. The ILO has adopted two fundamental conventions dedicated specifically to the topic of child labour. The ILO Convention No. 138 on the minimum age for the admission to employment and work sets standards for “minimum age for admission to employment or work”. The ILO Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labour was adopted in 1999 to abolish the “worst forms of child labour” as soon as possible. Child labour is often linked with poverty. According to the ILO, children are twice as likely to live in extreme poverty as adults, and over a billion children are living in multidimensional poverty – deprived of key dimensions of childhood such as health, education and nutrition.

Therefore, the first goal of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to end poverty everywhere and for everyone. Social protection is related to this. Goal 1.3 calls for the implementation of “nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and vulnerable”. The ILO-UNICEF report primarily states that social protection is a universal human right and a precondition for a world free from poverty. It is also a vital foundation to help the world’s most vulnerable children fulfil their potential.

In order to reduce child labour, countries must invest in health, education and nutrition. According to UNICEF, social protection is a way to do this, since it covers programmes like cash transfers – including child grants, school meals, skills development and more – which help connect families with health care, nutritious food and quality education. To make this happen, UN institutions collaborate (like the ILO-UNICEF collaboration) to provide assistance in terms of global financing and development of social protection systems, guaranteeing basic income security, good health care systems and education. As a result, children will be less likely to end up in child labour since families in poverty will be supported. Social protection creates a virtuous circle due to the investments in children who are growing up poor, but will be able to have children who will not be subject to child labour in the future. 

The report states that without this urgent action, we are choosing a path that limits the potential of this generation of children, with sobering implications for our collective future. Social protection can create the virtuous circle of economic development necessary for sustainability and social justice.


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