Listening to children must be key to UK’s strategy on child labour

Published on 6 June 2023

A new report from a cross-party group of MPs calls for the UK Government to strengthen its modern slavery strategy and more support for children moved out of harmful child labour as a result of regulation, such as education or social protection.

The report ‘Child Labour: strengthening the UK’s approach to a persistent problem’ from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Street Children, is the culmination of an inquiry into exploitative child labour chaired by Sarah Champion MP. Supported by the IDS-led Child Labour: Action-Research-Innovation in South and South-Eastern Asia (CLARISSA) programme, a key part of the inquiry was to hear from children directly to understand what drives children into dangerous and exploitative labour, and what more can be done by the UK government to prevent it. 

The foundation of CLARISSA is child agency and children from the CLARISSA Children Advocacy Groups in Nepal and Bangladesh gave evidence to the inquiry via video link, telling MPs their experiences of work and how it impacts their home life and education.  

The inquiry also had the benefit of hearing from the CLARISSA partners working in Bangladesh and Nepal, who gave key insights on the role of small businesses and informal economies in exploitative child labour. From the written and oral evidence collated, the inquiry has provided detailed recommendations for the UK Government in the report, which has been launched on June 5th at an event in Parliament attended by CSOs, MPs and Peers. 

Danny Burns, Professorial Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies and Director of the Child Labour: Action Research Innovation in South and South-Eastern Asia programme (CLARISSA) said, “Children must be involved in generating workable solutions to their problems. Whether these concern the need for underpinning social protection to prevent them being driven to work in order to eat, or ways in which they can combine education with work, or mitigating the impacts of the harshest work regimes (long hours, dangerous work etc). Similarly in a context where regulation of informal work has proved difficult for states to enforce, new strategies such as engaging with hundreds of small businesses to act as champions of change are proving fruitful.” 

CLARISSA evidence informs the report’s approach to strengthening the UK’s strategy on child labour by emphasising that regulation is not enough. One recommendation is that regulatory and aid branches of the current modern slavery strategy should be brought together in a “pincer” approach whereby regulation occurs alongside programming and research tackling the causes of child labour so that, if children move out of child labour as a result of regulation, they have something to fall back on other than (worse) forms of labour, namely education and/or social protection. Crucially, the report recommends that any programmes that support children in child labour need to be participatory, working both with children and small businesses, in order to be effective. 

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