Can fighting child labor become another “Save Bagmati River" Campaign?

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Every year the 12th of June is commemorated as World Day against Child Labor. The trend all over the world is getting better; child labor has been declining since 2000 according to the International Labor Organization, ILO, but still millions and millions of children are afflicted by this plague.  For example according to the ILO, 10.5 million children are involved worldwide as domestic workers. 

We are all aware as to how child labor is rooted in Nepal as the nation counts at least 1.6 million working children.

I am wondering if we as a society are doing enough to change the status quo.

Oftentimes it is easy to blame the government for inaction and failures in tackling child labor but at the end of the day I believe it is the responsibility of each of us. How? By changing our perceptions towards this issue and by making a strong case to consider child labor as a real problem while still too many people regard it differently.

The real problem is not the fact that children are working. The real problem is not the high level of inequality, poverty hitting many families (these are the causes). The real problem is that too many citizens do not look at child labor as a problem; there is a certain societal acceptance amongst certain groups of people.

You grew up with it; you see it every day; you get used to it. It is cultural; child labor is embedded in your way of doing, that’s it. But child labor is not fair, it is an injustice.

I have many reservations about the implementations of outright abolitionist approaches. You might get the best legislation in the world but then unless there is  political will to enforce these laws (and there is not the least at this moment) we are just wasting our time. It is a battle already lost without  any fighting.

I am more for a gradual approach. For example, let’s convince those using children as workers about certain, undeniable basic rights. The children can work but under certain conditions: they must go to school, they must play and they can carry out certain work only under strict conditions. In short they should be treated as children and as young economic actors with inalienable rights.

Importantly this year Child Labor Day is associated with social protection and the ILO is advocating for enhanced measures to offer families living in poverty some basic entitlements that are the essence of a welfare society. Inclusive education and health, cash transfers, unemployment schemes can be part of a social security system that is responsive to children’s needs.

It is really timely to read on occasion of Child Labor Day, the ILO’s latest World Social Protection Report 2014/2015 that builds on the World Report on Child Labor: Economic vulnerability, social protection and the fight against Child labor that was released last year.



The National Master Plan 2011-2020 wants to eliminate all forms of child labor by 2020.

This could be another lost opportunity unless there is strong determination, political will and a sense of pragmatism on the way we deal with the issue.

Do we really want to eradicate child labor by 2020? I believe it is possible if:

-we use a pragmatic and holistic approach

While progressively raising the bar of compliance of existing legislation against child labor, let’s look at this with a holistic eye, with a focus on social protection and child protection as rightly observed yesterday in Republica by Alina Shrestha from World Vision.  The article highlights the role that the National Policy for Children, 2012 should play when we talk about child labor.


-there is strong political will

We need to convince the politicians about the gravity of this issue. This happens only if there is much higher pressure on the government by civil society and common citizenry. Because many politicians might be at the same time the perpetrators of child labor, we need to scare them off ‘softly’, give them a nudge and let them understand that they must change their attitudes. Instead of exploiting working children, they can become their sponsors and hosts, offering them comfort and a serene atmosphere to grow.

-we create a mass movement.

Child labor is certainly not a worry for the families of the children; they survive on their children’s labor. Child labor should slowly become a matter of shame for the users. We need to create real interest among people. Child labor should not remain a matter of concern just for  civil society organizations working on this issue. We need to create a mass movement advocating for realistic forms of progressive reduction of child labor.

Nepalese have shown extraordinary resolve in cleaning up the Bagmati River, becoming a matter of national pride. The same should be for child labor.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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