Asia-Pacific enjoys a reputation as a vibrant economic zone, but it is also home to more working children than any other region in the world; an estimated 122 million children aged 5-14 years are compelled to work for their survival. Millions are not enrolled in school at all.
Although there has been progress in reducing child labour in many countries in the region, the problem persists. Research by the ILO’sInternational Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) has found working children in a number of economic sectors, including domestic labour, seafood processing, garment and footwear factories, mining and quarrying, pyrotechnics, rag-picking and scavenging, rubber and sugar-cane plantations, entertainment and other services. This list is not exclusive but it gives an indication of the efforts being made to document the many and varied forms of child labour.
The obvious vulnerability of working children also means that some face a further layer of exploitation – becoming victims of trafficking and sexual abuse.
If nothing is done about child labour the child labourers become young people with poor employment prospects who cannot lift their own families out of the poverty trap, cannot become parents able to give their children a better life, and cannot contribute effectively to national development.
Education therefore is the key. Through education and training economically and socially marginalized children and young people can lift themselves out of poverty and find ways to take a role in participate in their societies.
The ILO response
The ILO sees free, compulsory education up to the minimum employment age as a crucial element in each country’s efforts to tackle child labour and implement ‘education for all’ (EFA) initiatives. National time-bound programmes to eliminate the worst forms of child labour and regional programmes to combat trafficking in young women and children also make a positive contribution. ILO-IPEC, which works in more than 80 countries world-wide, seeks to integrate child labour issues into national development frameworks (including EFA initiatives). This ensures that preventing and eliminating child labour becomes a national development priority, and that education and skills training become effective ways of supporting this goal.