Africa: From child laborer to activist, Tara Banjara asks the world to commit to ending the scourge

Durban – Tara Banjara was four and a half when her parents put her to work on the roads, clearing rubbish and rubble from potholes to prepare for construction in the village of Nemdi, Rajasthan, India. She worked in the wind, cold and rain with her mother, day after day, year after year. She would come home broken, too exhausted to eat before falling asleep each night.

“In my family, there was no food. We couldn’t even eat two meals a day, so my parents decided to take me to work because I was the eldest of my siblings. I used to work with my mother to clean dangerous roads every day I was always worried about the cars coming I was not happy and I got used to feeling tired I didn’t know if child labor was right or wrong,” Banjara, 17, an advocate for child labor victims, told IPS. interview on the sidelines of the 5th International Labor Organization (ILO) World Conference on the Abolition of Child Labor in Durban, South Africa, on Monday.

Banjara was just one of dozens of children in his village, and millions of children trapped in child labor working in mines, farms, factories and homes, around the world.

According to the latest statistics from the ILO and the United Nations Children’s Fund, 160 million children, or one in ten children, are engaged in child labor worldwide. In recent years, child labor has increased, especially in the 5-11 age group.

Banjara called on delegates at a high-level roundtable on how to accelerate progress and have impact at scale to eradicate child labor, to stand up and commit to ending child labour. this practice around the world in line with United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8.7.

Tanzila Narbaeva, President of the Senate of Uzbekistan, explained how her country had already eradicated child labor through the adoption of the ILO conventions on child labour, Convention No. 138 on the minimum age and Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labor by 2020. She said that Uzbekistan had a “strong political will” to fight against this scourge and had promulgated 32 legal and regulatory instruments and conventions against child labor children. The government and the ILO have undertaken due diligence on farms and businesses.

“We have strengthened criminal liability for the employment of children, and it has become one of the most effective measures. International cooperation plays a central role and the ILO has been helping Uzbekistan for more than ten years to implement measures and enforce social and labor relations in the country,” Narbaeva said.

She said the mechanization of agricultural work and the tenfold increase in raw cotton prices compared to 2014 had also played a role in eradicating child labour. Uzbekistan then signed a new Decent Work Country Program to promote decent work and labor protection with the ILO in 2021.

“Trade unions were the driving force, but later the government and civil society got involved in this work,” Narbaeva said.

Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), who has worked with the government of Uzbekistan, blasted the lack of progress in eradicating child labor globally.

“It must be one of the most serious global scandals that we have not eliminated child labour. Do we have regulated and safe work where parents/adults can work with dignity so that they do not have dependent on their children’s money More than 60% of workers worldwide work informally, and this includes all sectors, including our internet businesses, which means there are no rights , no social protection and no rule of law,” Burrow said.

“When you can’t live off the informal work you do, parents desperate to feed their families will allow their children to work,” she added.

She said decent wages and universal social protection were needed to sanitize the desperation of the informal labor market and help parents make different choices.

“This must be supported by investments in quality public education accessible to all. We know the answers, but the real question is whether there is the political will as Uzbekistan has demonstrated, to eliminate the child labor and formalize informal work,” Burrow said.

She said South Africa had shown that informal work could be formalized through legislation in its domestic work sector. She said human rights and modern slavery treaties and laws must be enforced and that legislation was needed to hold governments and companies accountable to stop the scourge.

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said civil society and governments must come together to eradicate the practice.

“We know education matters. We know social protection matters. We know formalizing the informal economy matters, and we know creating decent work for adults matters. are the four pillars we need to work on,” Ryder said.

He said political will must translate into societal decision-making.

“Society needs to come together and say ‘child labor is intolerable. We need to get rid of it,’ he said.

For Banjara, getting rid of child labor has opened her eyes to the reality of education and a career in policing because she wants to impact the lives of other children.

An activist from the Bal Ashram Trust, an initiative of Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, rescued eight-year-old Banjara from his life of child labour.

“My eyes were opened. I didn’t know there was education. But my parents didn’t want me to go to school. convinced my parents. I stopped eating. I went on a hunger strike and was sad all the time to make them aware,” Banjara said.

Eventually, her parents relented and Banjara went to school and completed grade 12 of secondary school before enrolling for a bachelor’s degree in college. She hopes to make a difference locally when she qualifies as a police officer.

“Just because we are children born into poor families, who don’t have the right to vote, doesn’t mean we should be condemned to a life of child labour.”

This is part of a series of stories that IPS will publish at the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labor in Durban, South Africa.

Report of the UN IPS Office

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Michael A. Bynum