Remarks by Angel Gurría,
New Delhi, India, 11 December 2016
(As prepared for delivery)
Dear Kailash, distinguished participants, dear friends:
It has been a pleasure to participate in this landmark summit and I am honoured to address all of you at this closing session. During the past two days we have discussed how we can build a stronger platform to ensure that “every child has a right to remain a child”, as Kailash puts it, and is not subjected to exploitation, to trafficking, to slavery, to labour. Every child has a right to an opportunity in life, an opportunity that requires access to quality education. This is our commitment. This is our goal. I can find no better inspiration for this task than the words in Kailash’s book which you all have before you today: “Those who just sit the whole night, lamenting the darkness, often fall asleep by the time of dawn. But the people who find a way to light a lamp with the spark of their self-confidence and creativity – no darkness can ever diminish their shine.”
Unfortunately, too many children still live in poverty and violation of their rights. And this is not only a phenomenon of the so-called developing world. In OECD countries, one in seven children are currently living in relative poverty, corresponding to about 45 million children.
However, the situation is certainly far worse in developing countries, where in 2013 almost 385 million children were living in households that had to survive on at most one US dollar and 90 cents a day per person.
Poverty is tragic in itself, but the greater tragedy is that it often leads to forced labour and abuse. In 2012, roughly 5.5 million children under the age of 17 were coerced into forced labour. This is an intolerable violation of human rights, as well as a senseless waste of talent and economic potential.
A maxim attributed to St. Francis Xavier, an early Christian missionary to India, says “give me the child and I will give you the man”. He was of course speaking about religious instruction, but the same maxim works all too well for deprivation, ill-treatment and disadvantage. Starting behind normally means staying behind for the rest of your life: when children do not develop the skills they need in the first few years, they face enormous obstacles in catching up to their peers at later stages. Addressing policies to children offers a win-win opportunity for them, their parents and society as a whole and is a key element of an effective inclusive growth strategy.
In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, countries have an opportunity to make child well-being a priority. This agenda needs to include greater investment in children, from the very early ages. This refers in particular to investment in high-quality early childhood education and care, providing children the cognitive, social and emotional skills that can make a positive difference, especially for disadvantaged children.
But that’s not all. Investment should be sustained throughout childhood. We need continued investments to promote access to good quality education and health-care and to improve participation in post-primary schooling. In India, for example, the net attendance rate drops dramatically from 94% at the primary level to 64% at the lower secondary level. The main reasons include the direct and the opportunity costs of education; norms relating to child labour; early marriage, particularly for girls; and discrimination in the workplace against certain groups, which reduces their perceived benefits of education.
Overall, countries need to develop a comprehensive child-centred policy strategy that takes a holistic approach to relevant policies, including child support, education, health care and housing. In this regard, the OECD has a lot to offer. Our project on child well-being, as part of the OECD Inclusive Growth initiative, is developing evidence and concrete policy recommendations in line with the principles I just mentioned.
We are also advancing concrete international standards to combat child labour. For example, the OECD’s due diligence guidance provides a set of government-backed standards that help companies identify and tackle child labour across the full length of their supply chains. They call on companies to improve their own purchasing practices and support existing on-the-ground initiatives and international efforts that have proven effective. They also emphasise the value of partnership across sectors, so that child labour is not merely pushed from one sector to another.
We are working now to help companies use their commercial engagement to drive positive change, manage their own risk, and ultimately raise the volumes of responsible investment and exports of goods produced without child labour. This is one of the many areas in which we are partnering with the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF), so we can make child exploitation history.
Ladies and Gentlemen, now is the time to take strong action to ensure the best future possible for all children around the world. Let’s tap into all the positive energy that this ground-breaking summit has generated. Through our leadership and joint work, we can turn words into action, bringing the future we want into reality.