As I write these reflections, I think of the flurry of figures for this day: for the first time in 20
years, the trend that had led to a 38% reduction in child exploitation between 2000 and 2015,
freeing 94 million children from the slavery of forced labour, prostitution and begging, has come to a halt. The curve is rising again, reaching, according to official estimates, 160 million: that many children are taken away from school, from play, from the possibility of growing up healthy and in a way that respects their age. Newspapers, the internet and press agencies proceed diligently, as they do every 12 June, the International Day against Child Exploitation, to copy and paste the communiqués of the ILO (World Labour Organisation) and UNICEF.
With one new element: 2021 has been proclaimed by the UN as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. When the resolution was passed at the UN in 2019, the world had not yet been hit by the pandemic that wiped out years of intense work and, like in a cynical game of Snakes and Ladders, we were back at square one. Worse than that: the interrupted schooling of a billion children in 130 countries is having permanent psychological and physical consequences on thousands. Some 70 million children and adolescents have not been able to attend school, even remotely, with once again irreparable repercussions. As a result of the suspension of traditional vaccination campaigns in some 30 countries, 94 million children did not receive protection from measles and, in some 60 countries, thousands of displaced children, refugees and asylum seekers were excluded from
COVID-19 social protection programmes as a result of border closures between countries.
By the end of the decade, 10 million more forced marriages are expected. This glimpse of childhood denied breaks the heart. But we cannot allow it to break our hope. If the term ‘dignity’ still has any meaning. If there is still anything resembling compassion (cum-patìre). In order to deserve to belong to the human race, we know what to do: the direction was taken at the beginning of the new millennium and, on the basis of that fruitful experience, we need a Marshall Plan for institutions, businesses, schools, associations and police forces to work together to prevent and work against a crime as barbaric as it is devious. And, above all, for us.
We, the ‘civil’ society, must be able to read the many faces of a phenomenon that is much more contiguous than we think.
It enters our homes with sushi and pizzas, it sells by the hour in suburban motels. And we often look elsewhere. We observe little and investigate even less, given that the latest national research – conducted by the B. Trentin Association of the CGIL and Save the Children – dates back to 2013 and, although it left no room for interpretation (340,000 minors aged 16 with work experience behind them), the definition of ‘an emergency within an emergency’ was not enough for radical shock therapy. Children are not only exploited in African mines or Asian textile factories: we must prevent them from falling into the grey area of abuse, mistreatment and blackmail. We must prevent them from a hell that not only burns the South but also scorched the earth all around it. Wherever there is poverty and marginalisation.