NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Countries can end child slavery within the next decade if there is a focused global strategy that includes modernising laws, getting companies to clean their supply chains and breaking trafficking networks, said economist Jeffrey Sachs.
While 193 countries have committed to ending child labour and slavery by 2025 under the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Sachs said there now needs to be a targeted plan of action in place in order to meet the deadline.
"We have agreed globally to end child labour and to end trafficking and all forms of modern slavery, but we have to do it now," Sachs, a top adviser to the U.N. on the SDGs, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview over the weekend.
"We need very practical steps to break the criminal trafficking rings, to support poor communities by giving kids a real chance through proper healthcare and schools, and to ensure legislation and its enforcement is strengthened."
There are 168 million child labourers globally, with more than half involved in hazardous work in sectors such as agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing and services, says the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The ILO estimates 5.5 million children are enslaved - born into servitude, trafficked for sex work, or trapped in debt bondage or forced labour.
Almost 60 percent work in the farming sector - toiling in fields where they are often exposed to pesticides and risk injury from sharp tools and heavy equipment.
"DISGRACE OF OUR CIVILISATION"
Sachs, who runs a research institute at Columbia University and advises many governments on poverty issues, said there had to be a holistic approach, looking at the root causes of child labour, such as impoverishment, conflicts or disasters.
"Children are growing up in very vulnerable conditions, usually poverty is part of the story. The fathers may not be at home, the mothers may not be literate and the children may not have enough to eat, and there is little work," said Sachs.
"So people find themselves in difficult circumstances and do things that are unimaginable - selling their children or listening to the false promises of a trafficker."
Governments, development experts and civil society groups should come together at a global level and chalk out model legislative framework making child labour, slavery and trafficking illegal, which could be adopted at a national level.
Law enforcement agencies, anti-trafficking activists, lawyers and the judiciary could share information and solutions on how to break criminal gangs that buy and sell children.
Getting children into school is imperative to stopping child labour, said Sachs, adding there is a need to create a global fund to improve the quality of education in the world's poorest nations.
The American economist said big companies - whether they manufacture coffee, chocolate or clothes - should also be brought on board and held accountable to ensure there are no children working in their value chains.
"Vulnerability is the number one factor why this is happening, and from a moral point of view, nobody in this world should be so vulnerable," said Sachs, who spoke on the sidelines of a child rights conference in New Delhi.
"It's a disgrace of our civilisation that we not only allow this vulnerability, but it is happening to hundreds of millions of people in a world of such wealth."
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)