UNISON women have called for child marriage to be considered child labour after the second day of the union’s women’s conference began with an emergency motion that triggered some shocking emotional testament.
The conference pointed out that statistics from the International Labour Organisation show that when children are five years old there are around the same number of girls and boys carrying out child labour.
But after 11 years old the number of boys begins to outweigh girls, and the trend continues as children get older.
Delegates heard that this statistic hides the truth, because the girls are being forced into child labour through marriage.
Some 15 million girls will be forced into “marriages” over the next years, said the motion moved by Pam Sian.
This will see them miss out on education and be forced to work long hours cooking and cleaning and caring for children.
If these activities were carried out in a third household, conference pointed out, the ILO would count them as work.
The “married” girls will also psychologically abused and raped by their “husbands”.
Ms Sian told conference that her own mother had been a child bride, married at just 15 years old.
But it was a member from London that had the hall on their feet. She struggled through tears to tell conference that she was currently going through court proceedings for custody of her six-year-old daughter, because the father of her child wants to take her out of the UK and has threatened to force her into marriage at 12.
Conference also heard from Paula Donovan of international advocacy organisation Aids Free World, who is campaigning for a change to the ILO statistics.
She thanked conference for its support in agreeing the motion and said that “child marriage is one of the most isolating examples of child labour on earth.”
She said that child labour is work that is mentally, physically, socially, or morally harmful or dangerous, and interferes with a child’s education, and that it is vital that the ILO definition changes because “if girls can’t be seen, they can’t be rescued.”