NEW DELHI, India
As the global community marks World Day Against Child Labor on Sunday, Indian Nobel laureate and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi has sought the creation of a global social protection fund to end the menace of child labor.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Satyarthi said the coronavirus pandemic further stalled progress to eliminate child labor by 2025 – the deadline set by the UN Sustainable Development Goals approved by the UN General Assembly in 2015.
Born in the central Indian city of Vidisha, Satyarthi, 68, who campaigned against child labor and advocated the universal right to education, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 along with Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.
"Global progress against child labor has stalled for the first time since ILO (International Labor Organization) began publishing global estimates two decades ago," he said in an email interview.
Founder of multiple rights organizations, including Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save Childhood Movement) and Global March Against Child Labor, Satyarthi said global progress needs to be 18 times faster to match the goals.
"At present, the world is not on track to eliminate child labor by 2025. According to Child Labor Global Estimates 2020, to meet this target, global progress would need to be almost 18 times faster than the rate observed over the past two decades,” he said.
According to a UNICEF report in 2021, worldwide there were 160 million working children in 2020, while as many as nine million more children were at risk due to the impact of COVID-19.
Out of schools
Satyarthi said 160 million is not just a number.
"[As many as] 160 million children in child labor means 160 million children are devoid of a safe and free childhood. It means 160 million children whose rights have been denied to them. It means 160 million empty seats at school," he said.
The Nobel laureate expressed shock that despite efforts, targeted policies, and programs, child labor has increased in the last four years.
"The pandemic has further stalled the progress of our resolve to end child labor, even though the world is wealthier than it has ever been. The economic and social shock faced by marginalized communities during the pandemic has left our children in a very vulnerable position," he said.
Satyarthi is credited for having liberated more than 100,000 Indian children from labor, slavery, and trafficking.
In 1998, he launched one of the largest social movements by leading the global march against child labor, traveling a distance of 80,000 kilometers (49,710 miles) across 103 countries.
Describing the African continent as home to more than half of the world’s child laborers, he said while there was a decrease of eight million in the employment of children in other parts of the world, Africa witnessed an increase of 16 million.
"This is because of systemic inequalities in our world order, the brunt of which is borne by Africa’s children,” he added.
Protect children from risks
He said a social protection program will ensure not only access and continuity of education, but protect the children from multiple risks and unpredictability. He argued that 74% of children worldwide and 90% of children in low-income countries live without social protection coverage.
"Without adequate and direct social protection for children, we are going to lose an entire generation to our apathy and unpreparedness,” he added.
Satyarthi asked world leaders, and even business houses to join efforts to set up a global financing mechanism for social protection, with a clear segment of direct protection for children.
"The need of the hour is the creation of a global social protection fund with accountability fixed on world leaders to ensure not even a single child is left behind,” he said.
In his message on World Day Against Child Labor, Satyarthi said everyone needs to work with a sense of urgency "to end the suffering and injustice of children that has been further aggravated by the pandemic."
He called on world leaders, countries, organizations, and the youth to unite in "our resolution to end child labor and do their bit."
This Commentary originally appeared in Anadolu Agency