Pope Francis spoke out against the major drivers of child labor exploitation to the international conference on “Eradicating Child Labor, Building a Better Future.”

“It is shocking and disturbing that in today’s economies, whose productive activities rely on technological innovations … the employment of children in work activities persists in every part of the world. It is the denial of a child’s rights to health, education, sound development, including the possibility to play and dream. This is tragic. A child who cannot dream, who can’t play, who cannot grow. It is robbing children of their future and, therefore, humanity itself. It is a violation of human dignity. Extreme poverty, lack of work and the resulting desperation in families are the factors that expose children most to labor exploitation.”

The conference was organized by the Vatican COVID-19 Commission of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

“If we want to stamp out the scourge of child labor, we must work together to eradicate poverty and to correct the distortions in the current economic system, which concentrates wealth in the hands of a few. We must encourage nations and the stakeholders of the world of business to create opportunities for decent employment with fair wages that let families meet their needs without their children being forced to work. We must combine our efforts to promote quality education that is free for everyone in every country, as well as a health care system that is equally accessible to everyone.”

The U.N. General Assembly 2021 the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor. According to the Vatican, child labor exploitation has worsened during the pandemic.

“Progress toward the elimination of child labor has stalled for the first time in 20 years with a reversal of the downward trend and numbers reaching 160 million children suffering worldwide of this situation.”

Pope Francis thanked all committed to ending child labor, saying not to be discouraged “by the inevitable difficulties, but always expanding the network of people and organizations involved.”

“The way we relate to children, the extent to which we respect their innate human dignity and fundamental rights, expresses what kind of adults we are and want to be, and what kind of society we want to build.” 

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