Listening to children: 2022’s inquiry into exploitative child labour

Published on 21 November 2022

Senior Legal and Advocacy Officer, Consortium for Street Children

In this blog Stephen Collins, Consortium for Street Children’s Senior Legal and Advocacy Officer describes the contribution of the IDS-led ‘Child Labour: Action Innovation Research in South and Southern Asia’ programme (CLARISSA) to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Street Children, and how working children in Nepal and Bangladesh are talking directly to MPs.

As a result of the economic hardships ushered in by the pandemic, growing numbers of children across the world entered work to support themselves and their families, with many working in the most hazardous or harmful types of employment, referred to by the International Labour Organisation as “the worst forms of child labour”. Against this backdrop, the 2022 All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Street Children’s inquiry into exploitative child labour, chaired by Sarah Champion MP is timely.

The APPG on street children is made up of UK politicians from all parties with a shared interest in addressing issues faced by street-connected children globally, including child labour. Over the course of the year, the APPG’s inquiry has heard from organisations working to reduce the number of working children and improve workplace conditions, as well as from small businesses, where a significant number of children work, often invisibly. The inquiry has also had the benefit of hearing from the CLARISSA programme operating in Bangladesh and Nepal, with experts giving key insights on the role of small businesses and informal economies in exploitative child labour.

By probing key stakeholders, the inquiry has pieced together the complex nexus of circumstances that lead children into exploitative child labour. From global supply chains, to laws on modern slavery, and from governmental attitudes regarding informal economies, to the lived realities of local communities in south Asia, the inquiry has gathered a wide array of evidence on the causes of – and potential solutions to – exploitative child labour. Through its operation, the inquiry has afforded interveners the unique opportunity to potentially shape UK government policy on exploitative child labour, including on policies affecting supply chains, modern slavery and international development. From the evidence collated, the inquiry will formulate recommendations, which will be given to the UK government in early 2023.

The child’s voice

But what next? On 24 November 2022, the inquiry will hold its third and final session, focused on “the child’s voice”, which also corresponds with World Children’s Day, this year focused on ‘Inclusion, for every child’. The foundation of the CLARISSA programme is child agency and children from the CLARISSA children advocacy groups in Nepal and Bangladesh, supported by the wider CLARISSA team, will share with the inquiry their experiences of work and how it impacts their home life and education.

While the children’s evidence will be heard in a closed session of the inquiry, open only to parliamentarians to ensure safeguarding standards, the second half of the inquiry session will open up to all for an exploration of the merits and purpose of hearing from working children in the formulation of sustainable solutions to the worst forms of child labour.

Key actors in the sector with extensive experience of child participation, including the International Labour Organisation, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UNICEF and the CLARISSA programme, will give evidence from a diverse range of perspectives on how to engage children in efforts to tackle exploitative child labour – and how to ensure that we safely and meaningfully promote the voices of those to whom we urgently need to listen: children themselves.

Stephen Collins is Consortium for Street Children’s  (CSC) Senior Legal and Advocacy Officer. CSC is the secretariat for the APPG on Street Children.

CLARISSA is a consortium of organisations, led by the Institute of Development Studies, committed to building a strong evidence base and generating innovative solutions through a participatory and child centred approach, to enable children to avoid hazardous, exploitative labour in Bangladesh and Nepal.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IDS.


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