We can end child labor in Africa. Here’s how.

Children working in Kasulu, Tanzania. (Photo by: BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“We should not wait for development to end child labour. On the contrary, ending child labor is the key to sustainable development. says ILO Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Africa, Cynthia Samuel Olonjuwon.

With 92 million girls and boys working, or one child in five, Africa is the most affected region in the world. The elimination of child labor worldwide will not be achieved without a breakthrough here.

It is not justifiable. Children have the right not to work. Children trapped in child labor today are tomorrow’s unskilled labor force. Ending child labor is the key to sustainable development. Urgent action to end child labor must be seen as an investment for the future.

Is there any hope of ending this situation? Absolutely yes! As ILO Director-General Guy Ryder has said, “Optimism depends on political will. You don’t have to be a dreamer to be an optimist. You have to have good reasons to be optimistic”. In Africa, we have 92 million reasons to be optimistic about the abolition of child labour.

So what should be done? The 5th World Conference on the Elimination of Child Labor which has just ended in South Africa reiterated the need to focus on prevention. This is especially true for Africa, a young continent with a rapidly growing population. If we don’t act now, we should expect 105 million children to be in child labor in Africa by 2025, which will get worse in the years to come.

It is essential to tackle the root causes of child labor on our continent. These include: lack of access to free quality education; high levels of household poverty and vulnerability; limited decent work opportunities for parents and young people as well as very high levels of informality and inequality. In Africa, four out of five working children live in rural areas and work in agriculture, a sector where workers are often functionally dependent on unpaid child labor. Moreover, Africa is one of the regions most affected by crises related to conflicts and disasters as well as climate change. The Durban Call to Action calls for strengthened action in six key areas to address these root causes, including: the need to ensure free quality education, promote decent jobs for youth and adults and the need to invest in protection as a means of reducing poverty and vulnerability. This year, on the occasion of the World Day for the Elimination of Child Labour, I would like to emphasize the crucial importance of social protection in ending child labor in Africa.

Exposure to shocks (sudden job loss or illness or injury of family members) increases a child’s chances of working. Social protection reduces vulnerabilities and empowers communities by ensuring children attend and stay in school, and parents have the income to support their development and education. A report recently published by the ILO and UNICEF shows that social protection reduces child labor and facilitates schooling.

There are regions in the world where child labor has been reduced over time. Some countries have been more successful in reducing child poverty and raising levels of social protection for children and their families. However, Africa faces a double challenge compared to other continents. It is the continent with the highest prevalence and number of children in child labor and the lowest social protection coverage. In Africa, 83% of the population has no social protection. Similarly, within Africa: West, Central and East Africa are the three sub-regions with the highest proportion of children in child labor and also have the protection coverage weakest social.

Universal social protection and the elimination of child labor are both high on the regional agenda of the African Union, governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations, the ILO and other development partners. development. In Africa, anchored in the 2019 Abidjan Declaration, the ILO aims to accelerate social protection coverage to reach 40% by 2025, especially for informal and rural populations.

We are seeing emerging models of interventions designed to simultaneously help improve social protection coverage and end child labour. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, the ILO is supporting the National Health Insurance Fund to extend universal health coverage to smallholder cocoa farmers. Through a supply chain approach, the existing supply and operational structure of the value chain is used as an alternative distribution channel, thereby increasing access to services and improving the customer experience.

The cooperatives and their business partners have supported the National Health Insurance Fund in organizing awareness and registration campaigns as well as in exploring financing strategies to cover the payment of contributions. The model also emphasizes the delivery of quality services by health service providers at the community level, building trust and reducing resistance.

As a result, 1,815 smallholder cocoa farmers were enrolled in the Universal Health Coverage scheme and given a social security number. This is just the beginning. The model is now being replicated in other districts of Côte d’Ivoire with the support of several private sector companies. Moreover, this African good practice is being adapted and replicated in two other African countries, Ghana and Nigeria. Working closely with other development partners, models like this are being scaled up as a crucial part of implementing the Africa Regional Social Protection Strategy 2021-2025.

By demonstrating high-level political will and innovative intervention models of African origin, our continent is sending a strong message to the world: we are aware of the challenge, we are working on it as a priority and as a region, we drive change.

By Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon, ILO Assistant Director-General, Regional Director for Africa

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