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Child Labour and Millennium Development Goals

The UN Millennium Declaration was agreed by 191 governments at the September 2000. UN Millennium Summit, where 147 heads of government  turned out for the largest-ever  gathering of world leaders. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) embody the  universal commitment to improving the lot of humanity at the dawn of the new millennium.  They constitute a framework that guides the developmental efforts of many countries.  International assistance too is increasingly aligned with the MDGs and their timetable. The  poverty reduction strategy paper (PRSP) is commonly viewed as the roadmap towards the  MDGs: while the latter sets the destination, the former elaborates the strategies, policies and  programmes to get there. The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), issued by the UN  Secretary General in 2001, are a “road map” for implementing the Millennium Declaration.  The MDGs comprise eight goals supplemented by 18 numerical and time-bound targets and  48 indicators intended to improve living conditions and remedy key global imbalances by  2015. Goal 1 to3 calls for fighting extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education,  promote gender equality and women's empowerment by achieving gender parity in  education and Goal 6 calls for combating HIV/AIDS.  Poverty has often been considered the key reason for perpetuation of child labor. However child labor is the primary cause of poverty, as it pushes children early to premature work thereby denying children the opportunity to acquire the education and skills they need to  obtain decent work and incomes as adults. The elimination of child labor is an essential prerequisite to eradication of extreme poverty and hunger (MDG 1). The MDGs and child labor are intimately linked. The links are mostly straightforward and tend to run both ways. Poverty  and lack of education provision constitute the principal common grounds. Indeed, it is  poverty associated with social injustice and social exclusion that is most closely related to  child labor. Even in countries or regions of countries which are not rich there are examples of  governments which have made the political decision to invest above all in the key public  services of health and education ensuring education for all.  Lack of education provision and child labor are indeed closely related. The most common  reason for decrying the scourge of child labor is that it comes at the cost of human  development. Achieving universal primary education (MDG 2) is contingent on freedom from  labor to allow children to attend school and perform well.

Achieving universal primary education (MDG 2) is contingent on freedom from  labor to allow children to attend school and perform well. This logic underlies the insistence in several international instruments, including the ILO's 1973 Minimum Age Convention No  138, on the need for compulsory education up until children reach official working age.  Indeed, aiming for universal primary education also constitutes a giant step towards the  elimination of child labor as it draws children into schools.  There is also a gender equality dimension (MDG 3) to child labor, in view of the  discriminatory practices that disproportionately deprive many girls of appropriate education and add to their burdens through excessive household chores. The education of girls future  mothers plays a crucial role in reducing child mortality  (MDG 4) and improving maternal  health (MDG 5), just as it does in favouring schooling of children over work in the next  generation. Combating HIV/AIDS (MDG 6), too, bears on child labor since AIDS orphans are  among children most at risk and since this disempowerment of women and girls increases  the risk that they themselves may become infected.

The absence of child labor from the MDG framework is a regrettable omission that needs to  be corrected with a sense of urgency if the intent is to achieve the MDGs. It is important to  recognise that the strategies, policies and programmes that are being put in place in the  context of the MDGs and the PRSPs are so designed as to have most impact, directly or  indirectly, in reducing the demand for and the supply  of child labor and expanding  educational opportunities for all children. As roadmaps to MDGs, the PRSPs comprise, at  least in principle, fundamental elements of any effort to reduce child labor. The emphasis on  poverty reduction itself is of course foremost among them, as is the reform of the education  system to expand facilities and improve quality. The stress on agriculture and rural  development in many PRSPs is encouraging too, for most child labor is rural. The same goes for the priority accorded the health sector, given the widespread hazards child laborers  face, and the increased chances of social exclusion faced by unhealthy children in  impoverished communities. The World Commission on the Social Dimensions of  Globalization expressed the need for coherence within the UN family and the international  financial institutions in support of the fundamental principles on right to work provided by the  ILO freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining , freedom from foced labor,  discrimination and child labor. That coherence is required also in the implementation of the  MDGs and if they are to contribute consistently and effectively to the elimination of child  labor.

Most important, though, is the participatory process in the context of which the PRSP  objectives and policies are defined. This process offers a superb opportunity for child labor  stakeholders to influence priorities, policy makers and institutions, as has happened in some  countries, for example Kenya, Nepal and the United Republic of Tanzania. To back that up,  the relevant strategies and policies need to be subjected to rigorous analysis from the  perspective of their impact on child labor.