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“Working together to combat child labour: It’s time to stop the exploitation of children”

The Conference of the US Department of State and Department of Labour

Washington D.C., 8 June 2010

“I am delighted to be here in Washington with you all to speak at this timely conference. The United States of America has been a strong global leader for many years in the global fight against child labour and I would like to congratulate the government, the social partners, civil society and the people of America for their considerable efforts which have helped to move the international agenda forward. In particular, I would like to congratulate Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Labour Hilda Solis for holding such an important event here today.

Both departments have contributed so much to the protection of children and their basic rights and on behalf of Global March I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for this support. The US Department of Labour has helped create a vital platform from which numerous comprehensive programmes on child labour elimination and prevention have been launched and will continue to do so as we understand from the video interventions of Hillary Clinton and Hilda Solis at the Global Conference on Child Labour held in The Hague, the Netherlands, last month.

We in Global March also appreciate the strong statement by President Barrack Obama on the occasion of the World Day Against Child Labour in 2009 when he said: “Global child labour perpetuates a cycle of poverty that prevents families and nations from reaching their full potential.” Global March has always maintained its focus on the triangular paradigm between child labour, poverty and education and we welcome the President’s call for us all to commit ourselves every day to ending child labour in all its forms.

His words gave us renewed belief and motivation in realising that yes, we can rid the world of this terrible evil. But, he also made us realise that we cannot do this through a “business as usual” approach. We know from recent the Global Report on Child Labour from the International Labour Organisation that although the number of working children is continuing to decline, that decline is slowing and especially in the more difficult sectors where child labour is most prevalent and damaging, particularly agriculture. Therefore, we all need to step up our work and, in this respect, it is vital that the US Administration reinforces its role as a global leader by being bolder, more ambitious and more determined and courageous in its political commitment and support for this vital development goal. This is even more important in the context of the global economic crisis which is already having an impact on development aid budgets and therefore capacity to maintain vital programmes against child labour. The crisis is impacting severely on developing economies and we need to ensure that the progress made does not become lessened or undone.

The reason why I described this conference as “timely” before is because it comes at a time when there are so many opportunities arising around the world within which the US could further strengthen its leadership role. The Global Monitoring Report on Education For All published earlier this year focuses on the plight of the world’s marginalised children – those who continue to be excluded from education systems and programmes in spite of the investment in EFA. Many if not all of these children will be child labourers.

In addition, there was the Global Conference in The Hague and the Roadmap 2016 that emerged as the conference document and which will, I hope, be unanimously endorsed by the International Labour Conference in Geneva this month. And, of course, the US will itself be hosting the review of the Millennium Development Goals in September this year which will offer the international community the opportunity to ensure the inclusion of the child labour issue across key goals, particularly education, poverty and HIV/AIDS.

All of these events provide us with renewed opportunities to put child labour at the forefront of the global development agenda once again and to strengthen partnerships between all key stakeholders to take urgent and accelerated action. They offer us the opportunity to make the worldwide movement a reality. However, we must be agreed that now is the time for action. Bold statements and documents are meaningless to the children who suffer the harsh and sometimes fatal realities of child labour on a daily basis. We have made promises to them and we cannot break these. They must bind us to them in a very real and tangible way and we cannot hide behind our words anymore. It is time to take strong, urgent and determined action.

So, what can be done and what might we suggest as an immediate future course of action? I have six key areas that I feel are crucial for consideration in the follow-up to this conference and I would like to briefly mention each of these:

Firstly, I would like to suggest that it is time for us to declare war on the existence of child labour. It is time for the international community, hopefully led by the US, to state quite clearly that enough is enough and a strong political commitment must emerge to combat child labour once and for all. It is in the very title of this conference, so why can’t we make that happen? As with other wars, we need to establish effective strategic partnerships, including with those countries where child labour is prevalent. The time is right to do this and if we fail now, the consequences are too devastating to contemplate.

Secondly, the war against child labour cannot be won without a strong, committed, coherent and adequately resourced worldwide movement. Fighting this battle requires the commitment and support of the social partners, of civil society and of people and children themselves – all stakeholders. There is always a reference to the importance of the worldwide movement in documents and statements on child labour – but what is this mythical movement and how can it be strengthened if no resources are directed towards it? Global March has played a key coordinating role in bringing together civil society, teachers organisations and trade unions under one roof and with one goal and we can ensure that this worldwide movement has life and meaning – but this task cannot happen without financial and technical support. The model of the Child Labour Coalition here in the US is a good and strong model and we would like to congratulate its executive board and members for their continued commitment and work on this issue.

Thirdly, we need to focus on the emergence of a new child labour diplomacy and building strategic partnerships with and between such emerging economies as India, Brazil, South Africa and others. This process has already begun with South-South partnership initiatives, but it needs to grow and quickly. These countries can play a significant role in their regions and globally, for example, through the IBSA and BRIC country groupings and Global March is already working with these countries to draw upon their experience and expertise in the field of child labour elimination and prevention. This process should also extend to sub-regional country groupings, such as MERCOSUR, CARICOM, ASEAN, AU, and so on. These countries share serious child labour problems but also have vast experience in tackling this issue successfully and sustainably.

Fourthly, there is an urgent need to strengthen cooperation between intergovernmental organisations, including the international financial institutions. The key to the sustainable elimination of child labour is coherence in terms of policies, programmes and resources. Child labour is a multi-faceted problem that needs to be tackled holistically. The Global Task Force on Child Labour and Education is a good example of how this can be done at global level – but it too needs to be revitalised and properly resourced to be able to do its work effectively. But the continued existence of child labour and strategies to tackle it must also be part of poverty reduction strategies and particularly the decent work agenda and social protection. Child labour needs to become the shared responsibility of other intergovernmental mechanisms and should be a part of all discussions across the development sphere.

Fifthly, we need enhanced financing for education for all to ensure that it achieves its goals. In this respect, it is important that the US contributes its share of the financing package. And, whatever funding contributions are provided for education, it is vital that the issue of child labour is specifically included as a condition to ensure that programmes address the continued absence of these children from school.

Sixthly and finally, we need to strengthen the corporate social responsibility not only of multinationals, but of all business entities at different supply chain levels, including in domestic markets of developing countries. This should include multi-stakeholder initiatives which ensure the integration of state accountability to reinforce sustainably, for example, through enhanced, credible and transparent state labour inspectorates. It would be useful in this context to promote the strategic involvement of US embassies around the world in terms of providing political and financial support for such initiatives.

In closing, dear friends, and more than anything, it is vital that we remember that what we are doing here today and what we are thinking and talking about for the future concerns the lives of the most vulnerable in any community – the children who are working now and who will become child labourers in the future. They have waited a long time since the international community first began to sit up and take notice of the problem of child labour and promised that it would take immediate and strong action to help them and their families. How much longer shall we ask them to wait? We cannot afford to break our promises to them and time has always been of the essence. Global March pledged in The Hague to do all it can to continue its support for the fight against all forms of child labour. We uphold that pledge here today in Washington to wipe out this evil once and for all.”

Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
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