Innovative initiatives to address child labour: New CHRI report
By Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
Despite national and international efforts, child labour remains one of the biggest challenges to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG Target 16.2, which seeks to “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children” by 2030.
In 2021, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) concluded that the number of children in child labour stood at 160 million globally.  The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the vulnerability of children to become victims of child labour, primarily due to disruption to schooling and reduced access to child protection services. In the same report, ILO and UNICEF warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could push an additional 9 million children into child labour.
Despite these bleak statistics, there have been some positive developments to tackle the scourge of child labour. In various parts of the world, communities, civil society organisations and governments have stepped up with innovative solutions to tackle the problem. A new report by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) titled ‘Children, Not Workers ’, explores efforts by a range of stakeholders, including governments, civil society organisations, and communities, to address the risks and increase of child labour caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in three Commonwealth countries: Trinidad and Tobago, Ghana, and Sri Lanka.
In Ghana, where child labour is a major problem in the cocoa farming industry, the government worked with civil society organisations to sensitise communities on child labour and to ensure that children returned to school after COVID-19 measures were lifted. In 2021, a collaborative initiative in the cocoa-growing South Adansi district between the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) and the Ghana Education Service (GES) yielded positive outcomes. This initiative involved the creation of Community Child Protection Committees (CCPCs) - each CCPC made up of volunteers from the community and mandated to detect and report child labour cases to the DSW for further action. The GES also initiated the ‘Back to School’ programme with DSW’s support, which included sensitising communities on the importance of children attending school.
These initiatives saw positive outcomes, including the CCPC identifying and reporting 56 cases involving child labour, child maintenance, child custody, and sexual and domestic violence. In addition, enrolment figures for kindergarten, primary, and junior high school increased by 777 students compared to the previous year.
To address the issue of child labour in rural areas in Sri Lanka, particularly on tea plantations, civil society organisation Foundation for Innovative Social Development (FISD) implemented community-based initiatives aimed to reduce school dropouts, and promote positive parenting and family bonding.
In 2019, FISD set up Child Friendly Committees (CFCs) in four rural districts in Sri Lanka. These CFCs were made up of community members who were trained by the FISD to detect violations of children’s rights, help reduce school dropouts, and understand the importance of the family to address child labour. The CFCs engaged families through initiatives such as the Family Storyboard project, which involved the distribution of games to facilitate the strengthening of the family unit.
770 families participated in the initiatives, which helped children and parents bond over family activities, ensuring at the same time that children were kept from harm. The CFCs also ensured that children returned to school as soon as they reopened after COVID-19 closures. As a result, the communities involved reported that they had eliminated cases of school dropouts.
Trinidad and Tobago
In Trinidad and Tobago, child labour cases are under-reported due to lack of awareness of the issue, as well as the existence of socio-cultural norms that hinder identification and reporting of cases. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the difficulties in detecting cases, as it disrupted inspections and prevented first responders from connecting with potential victims.
To address these challenges, two government offices responsible for preventing child labour and trafficking – the Counter Trafficking Unit of the Ministry of National Security (CTU) and the Ministry of Labour– collaborated to raise awareness of the issue by engaging directly with children and young people themselves.
The CTU held several virtual training and information sessions targeting school children between 12 to 17 years of age, sensitising them about human trafficking and child labour, the process of reporting these crimes, and how to protect themselves. The Ministry of Labour also launched ‘Child Labour, A Child’s Worst Nightmare’, a video competition inviting children between 9 and 16 years of age to submit video clips expressing their views on child labour. The winning entries were broadcast on national television and social media to raise awareness.
These initiatives resulted in greater awareness and understanding of child labour and trafficking, evidenced by a significant increase in reporting of child labour cases in the country - from 3 cases in 2019, to 34 in 2022 (till September 30).
The Way Forward
The eradication of child labour remains a high priority of the Commonwealth. In June 2022 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), member states committed to securing the prohibition and elimination of all forms of child labour, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers, by 2025. However, there is still a long way to go before this aim is achieved.
The experiences of these three Commonwealth countries - Ghana, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad and Tobago - across three regions are emblematic. The initiatives are all innovative, evince a multi-sectorial approach, and demonstratively contribute to eradicating child labour. Having achieved tangible outcomes, these strategies have the potential to inform the efforts of other Commonwealth states and civil society organisations working to eradicate child labour in other parts of the world. One of the biggest takeaways from the experiences of these three countries is that it is imperative for governments to work with civil society organisations, in order to find innovative, sustainable solutions to effectively address child labour and trafficking in the Commonwealth.
A link to the full CHRI report ‘Children, Not Workers’ will soon be available.