Amid COVID-19 crisis, ILO and UNICEF call to ‘Protect Children, Now More than Ever’
Myanmar confirmed its commitment to addressing child labour by ratifying the International Labour Organization (ILO) Minimum Age Convention on 8 June, just ahead of the World Day Against Child Labour on 12 June. The development has been heralded as a positive development, particularly in the context of the current COVID-19 crisis, which threatens the rights, safety and development of the estimated 1.13 million children in child labour across the country.
The Minimum Age Convention 138 requires countries to set a minimum age aligned with the end of compulsory education and under which no one shall be admitted to work in any occupation except light work and artistic performances. It also prohibits hazardous activities for anyone under 18 years old. In Myanmar, the minimum working age is 14 years old, as per the new Child Rights Law and existing Labour Law. The Convention also requires countries to establish national policies for the elimination of child labour. Myanmar is the 178th country to ratify the convention and has an estimated 9.3% of the child population aged 5 to 17 in child labour, including more than 600,000 working in hazardous work environments.
According to a new report by the ILO and UNICEF, the 153 million children trapped in child labour around the world are at risk of entering hidden and more dangerous forms of work or working longer hours due to COVID-19.
Loss of livelihood, an illness or death in the family, displacement, and the raft of upheavals which are driving children out of school, orphaned or in financial troubles, are some of the COVID-19 related factors that are pushing millions of vulnerable children – even those at a very young age – to work in hazardous conditions. As of May 2020, more than 60,000 people have already lost their jobs in Myanmar; and as the crisis continues, deeper cuts in workers’ salaries or more employment terminations are expected to occur.
The ILO, UNICEF and partners are using the World Day Against Child Labour to draw attention to the importance of vigilance and a coordinated response to protect vulnerable children from the pandemic’s far-reaching economic and social impact.
Donglin Li, ILO Liaison Officer, called for continuous action and support to ongoing national efforts in combatting child labour. “There is significant momentum towards preventing and eliminating child labour in Myanmar as it has implemented the National Action Plan on Child Labour and ratified the ILO Convention 138 on the minimum age on 8 June,” Li said. “We must overcome the current COVID-19 crisis and work together to continue and reinforce the momentum to achieve Target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals on elimination of child labour by 2025.”
“As we fight the impacts of COVID-19 together, we must provide additional protection for children so they are not put in a situation where they are forced into the most dangerous forms of labour, that push them to miss school and impair their health and well-being,” Alessandra Dentice, Deputy Representative of UNICEF Myanmar, added. “We need integrated approaches that strengthen child protection systems and simultaneously address poverty and inequity, improve access to and quality of education and inform and mobilize the public to respect children’s rights.”
As part of the World Day Against Child Labour campaign in Myanmar, the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population (MoLIP), in collaboration with the ILO, and in partnership with the Embassy of Switzerland, are organizing a series of events throughout Myanmar through until September 30. Photo exhibitions in the Central Railway Station, Dala Ferries and Junction City will open on June 15, while online campaigns and awareness raising activities across various states and regions will take place over the coming months.
Tim Enderlin, Ambassador of Switzerland to Myanmar, explained his support for the campaign: “Children simply should not work. Switzerland welcomes Myanmar’s ratification of the Minimum Age Convention. We consider this an important step forward. However, a lot remains to be done and COVID-19 has not made the challenges any smaller. The Swiss Embassy is proud to support this year’s campaign of the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population in collaboration with ILO on the World Day Against Child Labour.”
Human rights-based and child-centred response to COVID-19 recovery
The World Day Against Child Labour is celebrated worldwide annually on 12 June to call attention to the global child labour challenges and to drive collective action to end all forms of child labour by 2025.
The United Nations has declared 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. While there have been significant improvements towards this goal, COVID-19 could set governments and social institutions many steps back.
The ILO is thus urging partners to join efforts that build on the respective ILO Conventions and Recommendations, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and protect all children in or at risk of child labour and ensure that they are a priority in the COVID-19 response. The ILO’s recommendations include:
1) Protecting workers and their families and providing livelihoods support: All employers and workers and their families should be protected from the health risks of COVID-19.
2) Strengthened social protection for all: Social protection provides essential support that helps families weather health and economic shocks.
3) Public Quality Education for All: COVID-19 has forced school closures in many countries. Children who were already working part of their time or who are at risk of child labour may never return to school so there should be low technology to no-technology interventions that allow vulnerable children to keep up.
4) Increased advocacy and partnerships: It is even more important to keep the spotlight on vulnerable children and families and to work together with all concerned partners to ensure that the needs of children are at the forefront of the crisis response.
Workers, employers and their organizations play a key role in preventing child labour by addressing the health risks at work and the economic consequences of the pandemic. Social dialogue has proven to be absolutely crucial for a balanced crisis management and response, ensuring protection of workers’ rights, the rights of children as well as business continuity.—ILO