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UN target to end child labor by 2025 is unworkable, academics say

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The goal of eradicating child labor by 2025 is out of step with the global reality and could lead many working children to even greater poverty and marginalization, a group of academics said this week, in defending more realistic goals.

The United Nations launched the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor last week, saying that urgent action is needed to achieve the goal, as Covid-19 puts more children at risk of child labor and threatens decades of progress.

According to academics, the goal is unsustainable even before the pandemic disrupts school activity and adds to the difficulties for millions of children around the world.

“Removing them from work does not help if it takes them deeper into hunger and destroyed lives that work seeks to mitigate,” said an open letter signed by 101 professors and researchers and published by Open Democracy.

Rather than basing targets against child labor on “emotional and ideological convictions,” academics said that policies should take into account the varied experiences and mechanisms that involve working children and their families, as well as scientific research.

“The current global effort to eradicate child labor is based on the experiences of the white, western and middle-class childhood ideals,” said Tatek Abebe, professor of childhood studies at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

“It is based on the belief that children should go to school and not work. However, the reality of children’s lives in many parts of the world is not exempt from work. Child labor is not necessarily bad,” said Tatek, one of the signatories.

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