Rachel (second from the left) and her fellow Youth Campaigners at the #FreeTo campaign launch in Sydney earlier this year. Photo by Lucy Aulich, World Vision
What happens when you unite hundreds of passionate youth with a common goal to ensure every child is free to play, learn and grow?
You make change.
It all started with the idea that members of VGen, World Vision’s youth movement, should design the first World Vision youth-to-youth campaign. In January this year, four selected VGen Youth Campaigners set off to visit World Vision child protection projects in Myanmar. I was fortunate enough to be one of them. I didn’t quite know what to expect as I boarded the plane or what the campaign would look like once we returned, but I knew it was an amazing opportunity to be part of something great.
We were warmly greeted on arrival by the World Vision Myanmar staff and Myanmar youth activists, who would also return home to make change in their local communities. The six Myanmar youth, soon to become our friends, showed us such genuine kindness and were an inspiration to all.
The most moving experience of the visit for me was interviewing trafficking survivor Lilly. Lilly was trafficked into China at age 16. After her dad passed away, the sense of obligation to provide for her five siblings led Lilly to accept the promise of a teaching job with a good salary in a remote village. But when she arrived at the destination she was forced to work without pay and was forbidden from contacting her family. She contracted malaria and suffered with mental illness. She married at 19 and had 3 children, but was forced to do strenuous work even when she was pregnant. Next she was taken to work at a rubber plantation where she continued to work for no pay. On occasion, her boss would sexually abuse her. In 2009, she was able to return home after fifteen years of exploitation.
World Vision organised for her to attend vocational training. She uses her new skills to work hard so that her children can go to school. Before I went to Myanmar, I predicted that I would be amazed by the strength and courage of individuals I would meet. Lilly was certainly one of them. She wanted to share her story so other children would not be exploited like her.
After seeing child protection issues first-hand, it was a priority for the #FreeTo campaign to educate the Australian public and politicians about the 168 million child labourers in the world today, and bust the main myths that still exist around child labour.
Some people think child labour is necessary for children to survive in extreme poverty, but it actually makes the problem worse. Children miss out on an education, which is critical to securing better jobs in the future. The hazardous nature of some child labour work can also impact a child’s physical and mental development.
Others believe that child labour isn’t a big issue, because the kids are almost adults anyway. But that’s not true – 44 percent of all child labourers are aged between five and 11 years old. That’s 77 million primary school aged children who are working, instead of enjoying their childhood.
Some people think that child labour is necessary, or inevitable, for the growth and development of some countries’ economies. But child labour actually drives down wages and increases adult unemployment, slowing economic growth.
It’s not too big a problem to end.
The number of child labourers around the world has declined by one-third since 2000 – that’s 78 million less child labourers. Child labour is declining because of the collective efforts of governments, business, civil society and individuals but there is still much more to do.
There are simple steps everyday Australian’s can take to help end child labour – including telling our politicians to make ending child labour a priority.
This is why it is important that the Australian government steps up this G20. VGenners have been campaigning all around the country, meeting with their local MPs to speak about the crucial role Australia can play in ending child labour.
Last week the Senate passed a motion against child labour noting that G20 governments have the opportunity to use their collective purchasing power to tackle child labour, acknowledging the efforts of VGen volunteers.
This is a great acknowledgement that we need to stand in solidarity against child labour around the world. Australia has an important opportunity to lead this change at the G20 in November.