Concern about child labour in humanitarian crisis is growing in the Global March Against Child Labour (Global March), a worldwide network of trade unions, teachers’ and civil society organisations.
They are working together towards the shared development goals of eliminating and preventing all forms of child labour, slavery and trafficking and ensuring access by all children to free, meaningful and good quality public education.
According to them, more than 50 percent of the 100 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance around the world, including those of the North-East Nigeria, are children.
Figures from humanitarian agencies indicate that more than 60 million people have been displaced and are facing extreme situations due to conflict, emergencies and natural disasters.
The group says some of the major consequences of these are mass displacement, separation of families, loss of parents, lack of opportunities in the formal labour market, increased poverty, and greater chances of children going missing and becoming invisible.
Prone to more vulnerability, children in such delicate times remain the worst sufferers who continue to be attacked, used as combatants, abused physically and sexually, raped and forced into some of the most abusive forms of work such as sex slavery and soldiering.
UNICEF estimates that 50-60% of the population affected by disasters is children and nearly a billion children live in countries that were affected by conflict in 2013 or 2014 alone.
However, lack of basic preparedness standards during natural or man-made disasters, and the emergency preparedness plans that do exist, have often failed to address the needs of the children, hence intensifying the need for child-friendly crisis plans and policies.
Given the mentioned backdrop, in the absence of educational systems for children, due to legal and social barriers to employment for adults and cultural inappropriateness for women to work, millions of children go missing into the shackles of bonded or forced labour in the hopes that resources gained will enable other family members to survive.
Moreover, there are a large number of children that migrate unaccompanied and eventually find themselves in the worst forms of child labour. These children who are breadwinners of their families or who are trafficked and forced into slavery, are often labelled as ‘invisible or missing children’.
Due to the ongoing conflict in Syria, it is estimated that one in 10 Syrian refugee children in the region are engaged in child labour. Children affected by the conflict are at serious risk of becoming trafficked, abused, exploited, raped and in some cases beaten to death. Millions are out of school and it is feared that Syria is losing a whole generation of its youth.
Nearly five years into the Syrian war, some four million Syrian and host community children and youth aged 5-17 years are in need of education assistance, including 2.1 million out-of-school children inside Syria and 700,000 Syrian children in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
But with no political solution in sight to one of the most brutal conflicts the world has seen in decades, the number of children missing out on an education continues to climb. It is no co-incidence that the countries with the highest numbers of child labourers-Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan that have been affected by longstanding conflict and emergency situations-are also the countries with the highest out of school populations.
Comparative analysis between war‐affected and non‐war‐affected regions done by ILO reveals that child economic activity is higher in the war‐affected regions than in the regions that enjoyed relative security. A recent analysis further emphasises that adolescents, specifically girls, are the age group that is most frequently missed by international assistance.
Therefore it is not an understatement to say that without targeted national and international efforts, children and adolescents will continue to face barriers and miss out on education, miss out on social protection and remain at risk of being abused, injured and face death, during conflicts and emergencies.
It cannot be false to say that these problems are intensified by the absence of a strong and effective child protection system, including the lack of policies backed by adequate resources, capacity and measures to improve child protection in emergencies.
It is important to note that true prevalence of child labour is always higher than what is reported. Because child labour is illegal in many countries, refugee families and employers in the host countries often hide the practice for fear of legal consequences.
It is often difficult to track the occurrence of child labour in such situations as many children are engaged in irregular, short-term jobs that change daily and in unpaid work. Also because of the frequent movement of the refugees, children engaged in work go unnoticed.
Nearly a year ago the world witnessed another grave emergency in Nepal as two earthquakes killed an estimated 8,500 people and injured another 20,000 in Nepal. An estimated 12,000 Nepalese children are trafficked every year, but since the two catastrophic earthquakes, the threat of child rights abuses with many reported cases of trafficking, child marriage, child labour and violence against children is said to be even higher.
According to a recent report from the European Union’s intelligence agency, nearly 10,000 refugee children have gone missing- many being feared to have fallen in the hands of organised trafficked syndicates.