The European Business Council for Africa

At the Fifth Global Conference on Child Labour in Durban (South Africa) in May 2022, the EU joined other key international partners in a call to action to end child labour. The outcome was a list of 49 concrete actions with specific targets, including legislation and decent work throughout globalized value chains. But the over-arching aim is to tackle child labour at its roots, through social protection for even the poorest – the theme for this year’s World Day Against Child Labour on 12 June, which marks the end of a Week of Action.

Significant progress was being made to end child labour until 2016, but according to the latest estimates, various challenges have reversed the downward trend: 160 million children are currently victims of child labour, half of them in the worst forms.

This trend is alarming, given that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 targets an end to child labour in all its forms by 2025, just three years away.

This figure could rise to 170 million by the end of 2022 unless urgent measures are taken, such as supporting the building of comprehensive and sustainable national social protection systems.

Universal social protection, whether through direct or in-kind benefits for parents, free schooling, school meals, healthcare, and childcare, is an effective adjunct, alongside decent jobs and fair income, to reduce poverty and inequalities as the main drivers of child labour, helping parents to send their children to school, rather than to work.

Evidence from a number of countries shows that social protection is an effective means to reduce vulnerabilities and build resilience against shocks, such as pandemics, environmental crises and conflicts. However, many partner countries are faced with challenges in designing, implementing and sustainably financing social protection systems.

All social protection programmes have a focus on the most vulnerable, notably women, children, and persons with disabilities. Currently, the EU supports 54 partner countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Caribbean, and South-East Asia to strengthen national social protection systems, broadening the scope of coverage and improving the delivery of social assistance programmes in particular cash transfers, sometimes combined with targeted service delivery.

Among these countries the EU thematic flagship programme specifically supports 24 countries to review policies that mobilise domestic resources to generate stable and sufficient revenues for social protection. This €22 million programme also helps build resilient and adaptable systems that can respond to shocks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling families to avoid resorting to child labour. Find out more about the 'Improving Synergies Between Social Protection and Public Finance Management' programme and the participating countries.

One priority is to end widespread child labour in agriculture and at the same time improve food security and nutrition. Having already provided €200 million to support 150 projects targeting child labour in 65 countries since 2008, the EU is investing a further €10 million to target child labour in agriculture value chain products, which often end up in EU shops. Meanwhile, €1 in every €10 of the EU’s development funding goes towards education, helping to get all children out of the fields into education. The Clear Cotton project has already removed 4000 children from labour and integrated them into schools or training centres.