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ILO Child Labour Convention achieves universal ratification

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For the first time in the ILO’s history, an International Labour Convention has been ratified by all member States. Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour  achieved universal ratification, following ratification by the Kingdom of Tonga.

Ambassador for the Kingdom of Tonga, Titilupe Fanetupouvava’u Tuivakano, formally deposited the ratification instruments with ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder on 4 August, 2020.

The Convention is the most rapidly ratified Convention in the history of the Organization, since its adoption 21 years ago by the International Labour Conference.

“Universal ratification of Convention 182 is an historic first that means that all children now have legal protection against the worst forms of child labour,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “It reflects a global commitment that the worst forms of child labour, such as slavery, sexual exploitation, the use of children in armed conflict or other illicit or hazardous work that compromises children’s health, morals or psychological wellbeing, have no place in our society.”

Secretary-General of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Sharan Burrow, welcomed the ratification.

“Universal ratification of Convention 182 is a potent and timely reminder of the importance of ILO standards and the need for multilateral solutions to global problems. Child labour is a grievous violation of fundamental rights, and it is incumbent on the ILO’s constituents and the international community to ensure that this Convention is fully implemented, including through due diligence in global supply chains,” she said.

“The universal ratification of ILO Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labour is an historic moment,” said Roberto Suárez Santos, Secretary-General of the International Organization of Employers (IOE). “Throughout the years, the IOE and its member organizations have supported the implementation of this Convention. Today, the business community is both aware of and acting on the need to do business with respect for children’s rights. This is even more urgent in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic . We cannot allow the fight against the worst form of child labour to backslide. Together we can work towards the end of child labour in all its forms.”

This universal ratification is a further step towards making more concrete the aspirations of Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, when he said: “I dream of a world full of safe children and safe childhoods; …I dream of a world where every child enjoys the freedom to be a child.”

The ILO estimates that there are 152 million children in child labour , 73 million of whom are in hazardous work. Seventy per cent of all child labour takes place in agriculture and is mostly related to poverty and parents’ difficulties finding decent work.

Convention No. 182 calls for the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including slavery, forced labour and trafficking. It prohibits the use of children in armed conflict, prostitution, pornography and illicit activities such as drug trafficking, and in hazardous work.

It is one of the ILO’s eight Fundamental Conventions . These cover the abolition of child labour, the elimination of forced labour, the abolition of work-related discrimination and the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. These principles are also covered by the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998) .

Since the ILO’s founding in 1919, child labour has been a core concern. The Organization’s first Director, Albert Thomas, described child labour as, “the exploitation of childhood which constitutes the evil… most unbearable to the human heart. Serious work in social legislation begins always with the protection of children.”

It is the focus of one of the ILO’s largest development cooperation programmes – the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour and Forced Labour (IPEC+) , which has supported over 100 countries in all continents.

The incidence of child labour and its worst forms dropped by almost 40 per cent between 2000 and 2016, as ratification rates of Convention No. 182  and Convention No. 138 (on minimum age to work)  increased, and countries adopted effective laws and policies.

However, progress has slowed in recent years, particularly amongst the youngest age group (5-11 years) and in some geographical areas. With the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a real risk that years of progress will be reversed, leading to a potential increase in child labour for the first time in 20 years, unless appropriate action is taken.

“Ending child labour by 2025 in all its forms” is included under Target 8.7  of the Sustainable Development Goals , adopted by all UN Member States in 2015. The global partnership, Alliance 8.7 , for which the ILO provides the Secretariat, brings together over 250 partners and 21 Pathfinder Countries to coordinate, innovate and accelerate progress to end child labour, forced labour, human trafficking and modern slavery. The universal ratification of Convention No. 182 demonstrates the will of all ILO member States to ensure that every child, everywhere, is free from child labour and its worst forms.

This landmark achievement comes just months before the start of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour in 2021 , to be led by the ILO in collaboration with partners. Its aim is to raise awareness of the issue and to help accelerate the pace of progress.

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Human Rights

Restore sexual, reproductive health rights lost during COVID, rights expert urges

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Adolescent girls attend a support group discussion on women’s health. © UNICEF/Tapash Paul

Sexual and reproductive health rights, are human rights, the independent UN expert on the right to health reminded Member States in the General Assembly on Wednesday, saying that it was essential to restore services in the field, that have been eroded during the COVID-19 pandemic

“Millions of women globally had limited or no access to maternal and new-born healthcare, some 14 million women lost access to contraception, and specialized services for victims of gender-based violence became inaccessible, when they were needed most”, said Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng.

The Special Rapporteur pointed out that lockdowns, movement restrictions and diversion of funds due to COVID-19 have “jeopardized access to essential sexual and reproductive health services”.

In presenting her report on the effect of the pandemic on physical and mental health services, she also spoke of “new measures and laws in place across regions, further restricting access to safe abortion, a component of sexual and reproductive services encompassed in the right to health”.

Reversing a legacy

As part of the right to health, the UN expert called on States to move beyond the COVID-19 pandemic to rebuild and strengthen health systems for advancing sexual and reproductive health rights for all.

“Governments must remove obstacles and ensure full access to quality services, including maternal health care, contraception and abortion services, screening for reproductive cancers and comprehensive sexual education”, she said.

However, Dr. Mofokeng noted that many obstacles continue to stand between individuals and their exercise of their rights to health, rooted in patriarchy and colonialism, and others in structural and systemic inequalities.

“Patriarchal oppression is universal, permeates all societies and is at the very origin of the erosion of autonomy and the control of girls and women’s bodies and sexuality to the detriment of their enjoyment of sexual and reproductive rights”, she spelled out.

“Colonialism has permeated patriarchy across regions and its legacy continues today through laws, policies and practices that deny or restrict sexual and reproductive rights and criminalize gender diverse identities and consensual adult same-sex acts”, added the Special Rapporteur.

Rooted in law

She reminded governments that sexual and reproductive health rights are rooted in binding human rights treaties, jurisprudence, and consensus outcome documents of international conferences.

“I call on States to respect and protect key principles of autonomy, bodily integrity, dignity and well-being of individuals, especially in relation to sexual and reproductive health rights”, she said.

“I pledge to engage with States and all relevant actors to uphold the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”.

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Human Rights

UN: Paraguay violated indigenous rights

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An indigenous community in Paraguay wait to receive their COVID-19 vaccination. WHO/PAHO

Paraguay’s failure to prevent the toxic contamination of indigenous people’s traditional lands by commercial farming violates their rights and their sense of “home”, the UN Human Rights Committee said in a landmark ruling on Wednesday. 

The Committee, which is made up of 18 independent experts from across the world, monitors countries’ adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  

Lands represent ‘home’ 

The decision on Paraguay (in Spanish) marked the first time it has affirmed that for indigenous people, “home” should be understood in the context of their special relationship with their territories, including their livestock, crops and way of life.  

“For indigenous peoples, their lands represent their home, culture and community. Serious environmental damages have severe impacts on indigenous people’s family life, tradition, identity and even lead to the disappearance of their community. It dramatically harms the existence of the culture of the group as a whole,” said Committee member Hélène Tigroudja. 

The decision stems from a complaint filed more than a decade ago on behalf of some 201 Ava Guarani people of the Campo Agua’e indigenous community, located in Curuguaty district in eastern Paraguay. 

The area where they live is surrounded by large commercial farms which produce genetically modified soybeans through fumigation, a process which involves the use of banned pesticides. 

Traditional life affected 

Fumigation occurred continuously for more than 10 years and affected the indigenous community’s whole way of life, including killing livestock, contaminating waterways and harming people’s health. 

The damage also had severe intangible repercussions, according to the UN committee.  The disappearance of natural resources needed for hunting, fishing and foraging resulted in the loss of traditional knowledge.  For example, ceremonial baptisms no longer take place as necessary materials no longer exist. 

“By halting such ceremonies, children are denied a rite crucial to strengthening their cultural identity,” the Committee said.  “Most alarmingly, the indigenous community structure is being eroded and disintegrated as families are forced to leave their land.” 

Toxic exposure 

The indigenous community brought the case to the Human Rights Committee after a lengthy and unsatisfactory administrative and judicial process in Paraguay’s courts. 

“More than 12 years after the victims filed their criminal complaint regarding the fumigation with toxic agrochemicals, to which they have continued to be exposed throughout this period, the investigations have not progressed in any meaningful way and the State party has not justified the delay,” the Committee said in its decision. 

Recommendations, reparations 

Members found Paraguay did not adequately monitor the fumigation and failed to prevent contamination, adding “this failure in its duty to provide protection made it possible for the large-scale, illegal fumigation to continue for many years, destroying all components of the indigenous people’s family life and home.”  

The Committee recommended that Paraguay complete the criminal and administrative proceedings against all parties responsible and make full reparation to the victims. 

The authorities are also urged to take all necessary measures, in close consultation with the indigenous community, to repair the environmental damage, and to work to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future. 

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Human Rights

Girlpower from Tajikistan to Costa Rica, helps narrow gender gap online

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The UN says, globally, 17 percent more men and boys have access to the internet compared to women and girls. ITU/R. Farrell

A marked global gender gap in terms of internet use continues to grow, but from Syria to Costa Rica, girls are increasingly pushing back to try and narrow the gap. 

The gender gap for online users has widened from 11 per cent in 2013 to 17 per cent in 2019, and in the world’s least developed countries, it reaches 43 per cent.

This year, to mark International Day of the Girl Child, taking place on Monday, the UN is showing how the pandemic has accelerated the use of digital platforms, but also highlighting girls’ different realities when it comes to getting online.

Below, you can read stories from across the UN, featuring how five girls, from five different countries, are using technology to build a better future. 

‘Our responsibility’ 

In his message for the day, the UN Secretary-General noted that these girls and all the others “are part of a digital generation.” 

“It is our responsibility to join with them in all their diversity, amplify their power and solutions as digital change-makers, and address the obstacles they face in the digital space”, he said.

The path to girls’ digital equality is steep. In more than two thirds of all countries, girls make up only 15 per cent of graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths, known by the acronym, STEM. 

In middle and higher-income countries, only 14 per cent of girls who were top performers in science or mathematics expected to work in science and engineering, compared to 26 per cent of top-performing boys. 

“Girls have equal ability and immense potential in these fields, and when we empower them, everyone benefits,” Mr. Guterres said.  

He recalled seeing this long before he began his political career, when he was a teacher in Lisbon, Portugal, and “witnessed the power of education to uplift individuals and communities.” 

“That experience has guided my vision for gender equality in education ever since”, he explained. “Investments in closing the digital gender divide yield huge dividends for all.” 

Tied to this, the UN has a new platform, called Generation Equality Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation, where governments, civil society, the private sector and young leaders, are coming together to support girls’ digital access, skills and creativity.  

“The United Nations is committed to working with girls so that this generation, whoever they are and whatever their circumstances, can fulfil their potential”, Mr. Guterres assured. 

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