One in 10 of the world's children are working as child labourers.
(Transcript from World News Radio)
It may surprise some people to learn that it's estimated that one in 10 of the world's children, or almost 170-million of them, are living the lives of child labourers, many of them in hazardous and oppressive conditions.
And now, with G-20 nations preparing to meet in Brisbane later this year, international aid and development organisation World Vision is urging the world's most powerful leaders to do something about it.
Murray Silby reports.
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"It's really important from the outset to clarify that when we're talking about child labour here, we're not talking about part-time jobs or completing apprenticeships, but what we're talking about is work that deprives them of their childhood and their potential, their dignity and that's harmful to their physical and mental development. These include the worst forms of child labour."
World Vision Australia's senior adviser on child trafficking and protection Melissa Stewart outlines the cost of children being sent or forced into labour rather than school.
The Group of 20, or G-20, which includes 19 of the world's biggest economies and the European Union, will meet in Brisbane in November.
Melissa Stewart says global standards need to be built into the supply chain of economies and the Brisbane meeting of the nations representing 85 per-cent of the world's gross domestic product, is the ideal time to bring about some major change.
"We're calling for a common set of principles that would be used across the G-20 countries to serve as a basis for how we're going to address this issue in supply chains. I think this is a growing issue I think 10 years from now we're going to look back and it will be so commonplace in the same way that we look at environmental reporting and occupational health and safety demands that are global of nature and a common set of principles. I think we're going to look at this as well with regards to child labour as well as other human rights issues that businesses face today."
The national director of World Vision India, Jayakumar Christian, says children can easily fall into labour roles.
"Very often these are jobs that require nimble fingers and provide a low income and involve difficult working conditions and long working hours. Children are easily exploitable so they are good for factories and companies and a lot of them are involved in either the agriculture sector, industrial sector or more recently infrastructure development where governments invest heavily."
But Mr Christian adds that it makes good economic sense for countries to increase their emphasis on the need to educate their children and to prevent them being put to work before their time.
He says the purchasing power of an educated, working adult is far greater than a child labourer, leading to increased economic growth.
In contrast, Mr Christian says the disadvantage for a child labourer doesn't necessarily end as they leave childhood.
"And then they become candidates for increased poverty and young mothers produce malnourished children increasing the high burden for social investment for the governments, depressed low wage economies and then these children become tomorrow's adult unemployable or under employed workforce. Not a great story for economic growth for any nation."
Paula Gerber, from the Monash University Law School, is a reseacher of children's rights, and welcomes World Vision's campaign.
But she warns any child labour reforms must be carefully planned to avoid unintended consequences.
"For example, children are working in say a brick factory, the West comes in and says, 'You can't use children in this process, it violates the convention on the rights of the child.' So these children get sacked from their jobs, but their families still need the children to contribute to the family income so they then go into even worse forms of child labour like child prostitution and the like. So, it's all well and good to tackle child labour and to stop children working in these sort of factories and whatnot, which are supplying products to the West, but at the same time, we need to have other processes in place to make sure that children don't go into a worse situation when they cease to be involved in child labour."
Dr Gerber agrees that children being forced into labour is a problem in a number of countries around the world.
"Many of these are in our region so if you look at the top 10 countries I think seven of them are African and three are Asian countries. Myanmar, Afghanistan and Pakistan and you also need to look at the different types of labour. We've talked about children working in factories, but a lot of these child labourers, particularly in Myanmar are actually child soldiers so it is a very complex problem to address if what you've got is children involved in conflict situations."
National director of World Vision India Jayakumar Christian says it's a huge issue for the world and the G-20 members are the best placed to do something about it.
"The G-20 is a great opportunity to develop an end-to-end supply chain focused solution to address and ensure that children are not exploited but instead are included in enjoying the fruits of our economic growth."