Pope Francis said on Friday that the persistence of child labor in 21st-century economies is “shocking and disturbing.”
Addressing participants in an international conference on Nov. 19, the pope said that the coronavirus pandemic had worsened the plight of millions of children forced to work worldwide.
“It is shocking and disturbing that in today’s economies, whose productive activities rely on technological innovations, so much so that we talk about the ‘fourth industrial revolution,’ the employment of children in work activities persists in every part of the world,” he said.
“This endangers their health and their mental and physical well-being, and deprives them of the right to education and to live their childhood with joy and serenity. The pandemic has further aggravated the situation.”
The pope was speaking in the Vatican’s Consistory Hall to participants in a conference on “Eradicating child labor, building a better future,” hosted by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, led by Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson.
It was the second time this month that the pope has highlighted the scourge. He called on Nov. 2 for renewed efforts to free children from “the brutal yoke of labor exploitation” in a message to a virtual forum hosted by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Child labor is the exploitation of children. It is the denial of their rights to health, education, harmonious growth, to play, to dream. It means robbing children of their future, and therefore, humanity itself.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) November 19, 2021
In his latest address, he distinguished between child labor and “the small domestic tasks that children ... perform as part of family life, to help parents, siblings, grandparents or other members of the community.”
“Child labor is something else entirely,” he said. “It is the exploitation of children in the production processes of the globalized economy for the profit and gain of others.”
“It is the denial of children’s rights to health, education and harmonious growth, including the possibility to play and dream. This is tragic.”
“A child who cannot dream, who cannot play, cannot grow up. It is robbing children of their future and therefore humanity itself. It is a violation of human dignity.”
The conference is taking place in the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor, endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly and supported by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The ILO estimates that 152 million children across the world are forced to work in exploitative conditions, although the global figure decreased by 38% between 2000 and 2016.
The FAO reports that 70% of child labor takes place in an agricultural setting, with 112 million children working in crop production, livestock, forestry, fisheries, or aquaculture.
“If we want to eradicate the scourge of child labor, we must work together to eradicate poverty, to correct the distortions in the current economic system, which centralizes wealth in the hands of a few,” the pope said.
“We must encourage states and business actors to create opportunities for decent work with fair wages that enable families to meet their needs without their children being forced to work.”
“We must combine our efforts to promote quality education that is free for all in every country, as well as a health system that is accessible to all without distinction.”
“All social actors are called upon to combat child labor and its causes. The participation in this conference of representatives of international organizations, civil society, business, and the Church is a sign of great hope.”