NEW DELHI – It is a blot on the face of humanity that we have yet to eradicate slavery – of children, no less. Not only does child slavery persist; the number of child slaves, 5.5 million, has remained constant in the last two decades. They are bought and sold like animals, sometimes for less than a pack of cigarettes. Add to their number the 168 million child laborers, 59 million out-of-school children, and 15 million girls under 15 who are forced to marry every year, and the situation is beyond unacceptable.
Eighteen years ago, the Global March Against Child Labour spearheaded a global movement to bring child labor and child slavery to the attention of global leaders. Thanks to the invaluable contribution of fellow activists, workers, educators, and businesses, the campaign was a resounding success, leading to the adoption of the International Labor Organization’s Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention.
Clearly, however, there is much work left to do. That is why the Global March Against Child Labour worked so hard – collecting 550,000 signatures on a petition – to push world leaders to include strong language against child slavery in the Sustainable Development Goals, which will guide global development efforts for the next 15 years. Among the SDG targets is one that aims to “eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking, and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor.”
But now it is time to back that promise – one of 169 targets – with concerted action. After all, if child labor, slavery, human trafficking, and violence against children continue, we will have failed to accomplish the agenda’s overarching goal of achieving inclusive and sustainable prosperity. And the responsibility does not lie only with governments; businesses, civil society, and individual citizens must all contribute, not least by pressuring their leaders to make a change.