In a historic milestone in the fight against child labor, an International Labour Organization (ILO) treaty against the worst forms of child labor has become the first ever to achieve universal ratification.
With the Pacific island nation of Tonga ratifying this week, the Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (C182) has now been adopted by all 187 of the U.N. labor agency’s member states.
One of the ILO’s eight Fundamental Conventions, C182 requires governments to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, which include forced labor, trafficking, debt bondage, and other forms of modern slavery.
The legally binding international instrument was introduced in 1999 and became the most rapidly ratified Convention in ILO history, dramatically expanding the legal protection enjoyed by children around the world.
The milestone brings the world one step closer to achieving Sustainable Development Goals 8.7 and 16.2, which involve the eradication of forced child labor and child exploitation.
“Universal ratification … is an historic first that means that all children now have legal protection against the worst forms of child labour,” ILO director-general Guy Ryder said.
“It reflects a global commitment that the worst forms of child labour, such as slavery, sexual exploitation, the use of children in armed conflict or other illicit or hazardous work … have no place in our society,” he said in a statement.
According to the ILO, 152 million children around the world are engaged in labor, nearly half of them in hazardous jobs; this number has fallen significantly since the year after C189 was introduced, when estimates hovered around 246 million.
But advocates argue that a united front against child labor is especially necessary in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the economic impacts of which could push millions into poverty.
With families under increased pressure to make ends meet, several U.N. agencies have warned that the number of children forced to work could rise for the first time in decades.
The universal ratification of C189 is a historic and promising milestone; now, effective implementation is crucial to ensure it achieves its goals.
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