More than 1 in 10 children are trapped in child labour

The number of child labourers has decreased by a third since 2000, but there are still 168 million child workers.

The number of child labourers has declined by a third since 2000, a report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has found, but there are still 168 million child labourers, accounting for 11 per cent of children aged 5-17. 

The ILO definition of child labour does not include all children in employment, but refers to “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.” Of the 168 million child labourers, 85 million are engaged in hazardous work, defined as work that directly endangers their health, safety and moral development.

Sub-Sahara Africa has the highest rate of child labour, with 59 million or 1 in 5 children affected, but Asia-Pacific has the highest overall number of child workers, with 78 million.

The report reveals a few unexpected features of child labour. Firstly, it finds that child labour is not limited to the world’s poorest countries, suggesting that the factors affecting the number of child workers are more complex than poverty alone. Although the percentage of child labourers is highest in low income countries, the overall numbers of child workers is greater in middle income countries. Within countries, child labour isn’t confined to the poorest households.

Secondly, it notes that while child labour is highest in the agricultural sector, as might be expected, the number of children employed in the service sector has increased. This means policy-makers need to ensure that their interventions target the service and manufacturing industries as well as farming.

Finally, the report has found that child labour has decreased at a faster rate for girls than for boys (40 per cent versus 25 per cent.) However, it says it can be harder to monitor child labour among girls, particularly if they are doing domestic work in private households. This points to a broader problem with child labour: it’s very hard to measure. It’s often illegal and concentrated in the informal economy, and governments in the countries with the highest rates of child labour are unlikely to have strong data collection abilities.

UNICEF, for instance, publishes data on child labour by country, but many countries don’t submit any data for this. Of the countries reported on in its State of the World’s Children 2013 publication, Somalia, Benin and Burkina Faso were the worst offenders, with the percentage of child labour at 49 per cent, 46 per cent and 39 per cent respectively. Beyond Sub-Saharan Africa, Cambodia has the highest rate of child labour, at 36 per cent.

Even accounting for significant constraints in data collection, however,  the rate of child labour is worryingly high, with ILO set to miss its target of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016.

 

Indian children work nearby to their parents at a construction project in Delhi, 2010. Photo: Getty.

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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Putin's vote-winning trick? He makes power personal

Representatives in the Russian parliament, the Duma, have long been unpopular. Yet President Putin is immune to voter's discontent.

A week before Russia’s parliamentary elections, the central square in Ekaterinburg – the fourth-largest city in Russia, a thousand miles east of Moscow – was packed with people, huddling close on a wet September night. They faced a stage decorated with a poster imploring the crowd to vote for “ours”, meaning United Russia, Vladimir Putin’s political party.

Yet it wasn’t politics for which thousands of people had braved the rain – it was music. During the perestroika and glasnost years of post-Soviet openness, Ekaterinburg was the cradle of the Russian rock scene. The home-grown bands Nautilus Pompilius, Chaif and Agata Kristi sang about freedom and change. Thus, this free concert to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the legendary Sverdlovsk Rock Club was bound to draw a crowd, and United Russia latched on to that.

A message from Dmitry Medvedev, the United Russia leader, praising local rock bands for their bravery “in those days when freedom was in deficit”, was read to the assembled fans. If freedom was a powerful word thirty years ago it has little impact on Russians today. Turnout in the election on 18 September was less than 50 per cent (and only 41.5 per cent in the Ekaterinburg region), a sign of the general political apathy. Before they went to the polls, it was hard to find anyone who was enthusiastic about voting.

“Why should I bother with voting? The result is clear: United Russia will, as always, win,” says Vyacheslav Bakhtin, who owns a small construction company in Ekaterinburg. He added: “Elections are the last thing on my mind. My business has been suffering for the last two years. We couldn’t even afford to go on a family vacation this summer.”

The Russian economy is struggling because of low oil prices, trade embargoes and geopolitical concerns. There have been public spending cuts, and the free float of the rouble led to currency devaluation and high inflation (7 per cent in August). Unemployment is rising and the base interest rate is 10.5 per cent.

There are many reasons for Russians to want a change in government, yet it appears that people do not see the link between their daily struggles and Putin’s policies.

Anna Mikhailova has recently returned from a tour of the Golden Ring of Russia (a circuit of medieval cities to the north-east of Moscow), where there is a stark contrast between the restored onion-domed churches and the crumbling villages.

“People live in poverty in crammed kummunalki [Soviet-style communal flats with several families sharing one kitchen and bathroom],” she tells me. “But they still talk about Putin the Saviour, standing up for Mother Russia.”

Apart from United Russia, 13 parties were judged eligible to stand, but the range of choice was an illusion. Olga, who requested anonymity for her own safety, explained. “We have one party – United Russia – a few pseudo-opposition parties, the Communists, the LDPR and Fair Russia who support Putin’s cause, and a bunch of nobodies that people don’t care about.”

Indeed, Gennady Zyuganov, who has led the Communist Party since 1993, campaigned under the slogan “Ten Stalinist punches against capitalism”. But although he criticised Medvedev, he didn’t touch Putin. The populist leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Vladimir Zhirinovsky, another political dinosaur, actively endorses Putin’s foreign policy.

If there is discontent among voters, Putin is immune to it. On the eve of the elections, United Russia’s popularity slid to just 30 per cent of total respondents in one poll, though it scored 50 per cent among those who said they were definitely going to vote. Medvedev’s own approval rating fell to 48 per cent. His message to the elderly that state pensions wouldn’t increase, and his advice to teachers to get jobs in the private sector if they weren’t happy with their state salaries, might have had something to do with it. Yet Putin’s popularity remained consistently high, at 82 per cent, according to independent pollsters the Levada Centre.

Alexey Volkov, a 40-year-old business manager, says he voted for the Communists. “I voted against United Russia, the apparatchiks stifling the president,” he explains. “Putin, on the other hand, is the best ruler since Alexander III [Russia’s emperor at the end of the 19th century].”

Representatives in the Russian parliament, the Duma, have long been unpopular and considered ineffective by the Russian people. Over the past 16 years, presidential power has expanded hugely. Since Russia adopted its new constitution in 1993, successive presidents have introduced legislation to stretch the office’s authority. In his first term as president, Putin acquired 219 new rights and duties, and as his successor Medvedev enjoyed an additional 114 responsibilities. These range from educational appointments to federal government decisions.

As predicted, United Russia topped the ballot with 54 per cent of the vote. Putin’s party claimed 343 of the 450 seats (up from 238 in 2011). The same four parties will form the Duma. The Yabloko and PARNAS parties, seen by voters as a token gesture of protest against the Kremlin, gained negligible support, with 2 per cent and 0.7 per cent, respectively.

It is ultimately Putin’s victory. In the eyes of the majority, he has restored Russia’s strength abroad, revived the defence industry and army, and reinvigorated the country with patriotism. The latter was accomplished via manipulation of the media, which has reinstated the West as the enemy and focused attention on foreign affairs at the expense of the social and economic agenda at home.

Still, with the low turnout, only 26 per cent of eligible Russians voted for Putin’s party. Though that was enough to tighten the president’s grip on the Duma, nationwide the elections paint a picture of a dejected Russia just beginning to feel discontent with the status quo. It is not yet enough to unseat Putin, but as the old Russian saying goes: a drop of water can cut through stone.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times