Webinar Series Part 1 - An Introduction to Child Labour

1 July 2021


Embode has collaborated with Be Slavery Free to launch 'Are we there yet?', a series of webinars on child labour. Here we introduce the first of the series; 'An Introduction to Child Labour'.

The extent of the problem

Child labour is a ubiquitous and persistent problem and exists in some form or another in the supply chains of many of the products that we use on a daily basis, such as clothes, shoes, chocolate and other foods, cosmetics, as well as in our electronic items. In the latest statistics released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNICEF in June 2021 it is estimated that some 160 million children are in child labour on a daily basis. This is an estimated increase of about 8.4 million children since 2016. Of these, 79 million are in hazardous work such as slavery, sexual exploitation or in armed conflict, when they should be in school, enjoying their childhood and building a future for themselves.

Getting to the roots – finding solutions

To mark the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, Embode has partnered with Be Slavery Free to conduct a series of webinars which unpacks the complexities of child labour and explores its dimensions. The series will particularly focus on the tenacious linkages of child labour to poverty, education or the lack of it, culture and history. 

The introductory session by Aarti Kapoor discussed how although there is international legislation defining child labour, this concept is still understood according to how each country defines it in its own laws. Children and child labour are therefore heavily influenced by socio-cultural norms, and enforcement against child labour is often limited by resource and capacity restraints. The way child labour is understood and practiced, is often complex and varies from one country or sector to another. In different countries, children of different ages can engage in light work even during childhood, and may legitimately take up paying jobs when they are above 16 years of age, except where the work is hazardous. 

Hazardous work may include working with pesticides, automated machinery, or any task that requires being in confined spaces or involves heavy lifting, carrying or working at height or depths, regardless of age (even for those of 16-17 years of age). Additionally, the worst forms of child labour, including trafficking, are strictly forbidden as they are harmful for the long term moral, physical and mental health of children. This includes children engaged in forced labour, criminal activities or sexual services.

The introductory session also unpacks the nuances of children engaged in legitimate work and emphasises that all work undertaken by children is not simply considered child labour. If some children are above minimum ages for employment and are working in a manner that helps their development, it is recognised as legitimate child work, as usually defined by national and local laws. This is why child labour is distinguished as work that deprives children of their childhood, potential and dignity and is harmful to mental and physical development.

In responding to eliminating child labour, it is important to see children as more than just child labour incidents. Too often governments and corporate business responding to child labour get caught up in counting cases, and not implementing constructive remediation programmes to tackle the root causes. Focusing too much on quantifying the issue can often lead to debates about methodologies used and pros and cons of approaches adopted. This often distracts attention the children who continue to find themselves in precarious situations. A better and more effective response to child labour would focus on strengthening systems that disable the causes and enablers of child labour. This entails more attention and investment in improving and reinforcing education, health and social security for the most vulnerable children and families. 

Shifting the lens

In co-creating systems that prevent children from falling into situations of child labour it is necessary to shift the lens from focusing on cases of child labour, to strengthening systems of child wellbeing. In order to do this we need to broaden the picture and look at children in contexts of their environments.  Firstly, child labour should be seen within the context of children’s rights, which is a sub-set of human rights. Children who are most vulnerable to child labour are those who often also lack access to their other rights, such as education, protection from abuse and neglect and access to basic amenities such as clean water, food and shelter.

Secondly, children also need to be recognised as embedded within their families and communities. Children are intrinsic parts of their family systems and communities, and as such they are dependent on adults, such as their parents and other duty bearers to ensure they can enjoy their fundamental rights. Whilst children are also seen as the future hope of their families, children also need to be recognised for the present lived experience of childhood. This is why the role of families and mandated duty bearers, such as community leaders, teachers and other government actors, are so central in the response to child labour.

Conducted in partnership with Be Slavery Free

The introductory session was held on Thursday 25 March 2021. Embode's Director Aarti Kapoor presented the webinar and was in conversation with Carolyn Kitto and Fuzz Kitto of Be Slavery Free.

The introductory webinar serves as a valuable primer for corporations, consumer and the general public who need to understand the harmful effects of child labour and child exploitation and who are attempting to call out these harmful practices and address the problem.  

Listen to the recording here: https://vimeo.com/529063793