Since 2002, on 12 June each year, United Nations, governments, employers` and workers` unions, civil society organizations and numerous other people around the globe focus on the problem of child labor and pledge to mitigate and eventually eliminate it.
Early 21st century has witnessed a continuation of the downward trend in occurrence of child labor, started in 19th and 20th century in the most developed countries of the world where the practice was first identified as a problem. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948, as well as economic growth and the rise of living and social standards, have considerably accelerated the worldwide struggle against child labor. But, according to ILO, it is still estimated that 168 million children are engaged in labor around our world, half of which in „hazardous“ jobs.
The problem has several layers. There is slavery or similar types of „unconditional“ work. Abductions, child trafficking or slave trade often go hand in hand with it. Then there is „hazardous“ work, i.e. jobs that are far more dangerous or detrimental to life, health, upbringing and/or normal development of a child than of an adult. And, finally, there are numerous „ordinary“ labor activities which children have to perform instead of education, playing or necessary leisure. In any case, intense child labor usually deprives a child of many subsequent opportunities in life, thus not least on the short but also on the long run reducing its freedom.
Many factors contribute to this practice. Widespread poverty in some regions of the world mandates all members of families to contribute in hard work so that families barely survive. Wars or other civil conflicts (including dictatorships), natural disasters, deseases or famine often drive millions out of their usual habitat or normal life, sometimes also killing parents and leaving children as the only earners in the family. Lack of rule of law allows the practice to persist even in countries which are not anymore so poor or in chaos.
FNF Freedom Barometer project of monitoring freedom (and in that framework also human rights) in 30 countries of Europe and Central Asia through its printed annual Europe Edition, its website and its Facebook page, does not circumvent the issue of child labor, in spite of the decrease thereof.
Countries of Balkans, Caucasus and Central Asia are still struggling hard against the incidence of child labor in its „ordinary“ form. More or less in all 30 countries, be they ones of origin, destination or transit, trafficking of children and their misuse for illicit activities exists. In some, a systematic misuse of children for „hazardous“ labor activities (due to inadequate preventive legal actions) was noted.
Recent refugee and migrant crises have thereby brought new challenges. Many children travel unaccompanied by adults and sometime fall victims to abductions, trafficking and various abuse, including for child labor. Proper legislation and especially regulation, as well as implementation in the spirit of rule of law, coupled with civil society activities, might considerably reduce those phenomena.