Pope: Tackle poverty to protect children from child labour

Pope Francis addresses the 5th Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour taking place in South Africa and underlines that ensuring the present and future of children is ensuring the present and future of the entire human family.

By Benedict Mayaki, SJ

The 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour is taking place in Durban, South Africa from 15 – 20 May.

For the occasion, Pope Francis has sent a message extending his warm greetings and prayers to the participants in a letter addressed to Mr. Guy Rider, the Director-General of the International Labour Organization.

The six-day event aims to raise awareness about child labour and to accelerate efforts towards its elimination at a time when about 160 million children – almost one in ten worldwide – are being forced to work, according to the UN.

Covid-19 and child labour

Pope Francis notes that in spite of the significant progress that has been made in eliminating child labour from society, the tragedy has been worsened by the impact of the global health crisis and the spread of extreme poverty in many parts of the world “where the lack of decent work opportunities for adults and adolescents, migration, and humanitarian emergencies condemn millions of young girls and boys to a life of economic and cultural impoverishment.”

More so, “too many small hands are busy plowing fields, working in mines, traveling great distances to draw water and doing work that prevents them from attending school,” the Pope lamented, thinking also of the victims of child prostitution which has “robbed millions of children of the joy of their youth and their God-given dignity.”

Tackling poverty

Pointing at poverty as the chief factor that exposes children to labour exploitation, Pope Francis encouraged the participants to deliberate on the “structural causes of global poverty and the scandalous inequality that continues to exist among the members of the human family.”

He also expressed confidence that the conference will lead to increased awareness on the part of social actors and relevant bodies – both national and international – to work towards finding “appropriate and effective ways of protecting the dignity and rights of children, especially through the promotion of social protection systems and access to education on the part of all.”

Protecting children, protecting the human family

Pope Francis went on to highlight the Church’s particular concern on the issue of child labour, noting that the social teachings stress that ensuring the present and future of children also ensures the present and future of the entire human family.

Indeed, he added, “the way we relate to children, the extent to which we respect their innate human dignity and fundamental rights, expresses what kind of adults we are and want to be, and what kind of society we want to build.”

He then restated the Holy See’s commitment to working towards ensuring that the international community perseveres in its efforts to combat child labour exploitation resolutely, jointly and decisively, “so that children will be able to enjoy the beauty of this stage of life, while also cultivating dreams for a bright future.”

Concluding, Pope Francis thanked the organizers and promoters of the conference and prayed that their deliberations may be “a pledge of lasting growth and a prosperous future for children throughout the whole world.”