under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work
INTERNATIONAL LABOUR CONFERENCE
90th Session 2002
Report I (B)
INTERNATIONAL LABOUR OFFICE
This Report may also be consulted on the ILO Internet site
ISBN 92-2-112416-9 ISSN 0074-6681
First published 2002
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Millions of children worldwide are engaged in labour that is hindering their education, development and future livelihoods; many of them are involved in the worst forms of child labour that cause irreversible physical or psychological damage, or that even threaten their lives. This situation represents an intolerable violation of the rights of individual children, it perpetuates poverty and it compromises economic growth and equitable development. The effective abolition of child labour is an essential element of the International Labour Organization’s goal of achieving decent work for all women and men.
A future without child labour, the third Global Report under the followup to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, shows how the abolition of child labour has become a global cause for the new millennium. It explores the ever-changing manifestations of child labour throughout the world, and how girls and boys are affected differently, it presents new data on the scale of this stubborn problem, and it sheds new light on its complex, interlinked causes. It charts the growth of a global movement against child labour, reviewing the various types of action being taken by the ILO, its tripartite constituents (governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations) and other actors at international, national and local levels. The Report concludes with proposals for a three-pillar approach to strengthen the action of the ILO in this field, building upon the wealth of experience gained by the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) in the decade since its establishment.
A future without child labour traces the ILO’s historical concern with the abolition of child labour. At its very first session, the International Labour Conference adopted the Minimum Age (Industry) Convention, 1919 (No. 5). Over the years that followed, the concept of minimum age for entry into employment was extended to different economic sectors, culminating with the adoption of the comprehensive Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138).
The inclusion of the effective abolition of child labour in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up, adopted in 1988, highlighted the growing consensus across the world that child labour represents a serious threat to sustainable economic and social development everywhere. The unanimous adoption, the following year, of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), and its subsequent unprecedented rate of ratification, attest to the strength of the political will
among ILO member States to tackle, with employers’ and workers’ organizations and all partners in civil society, these most extreme forms of child labour as a matter of the greatest urgency. Convention No. 182 has served to consolidate resolve on the need for immediate action to combat the worst forms of child labour, accompanied by measures to eliminate and prevent all child labour in the longer term.
The Report clarifies the boundaries of child labour for abolition. The term “child labour” does not encompass all work performed by children under the age of 18. Many children, in very different national circumstances, carry out work that is entirely consistent with their education and full physical and mental development. Drawing on the provisions of Conventions Nos. 138 and 182, the report identifies three categories of child labour to be abolished:
- Labour performed by a child who is under a minimum age specified in national legislation for that kind of work.
- Labour that jeopardizes the physical, mental or moral well-being of a child, known as hazardous work.
- The unconditional worst forms of child labour, which are internationally defined as slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labour, forced recruitment for use in armed conflict, prostitution and pornography, and illicit activities.
Child labour is a complex phenomenon and difficult to research. The absence of information on its extent and nature was, for many years, a serious impediment to effective action against it. But the situation is fast improving. In a new climate of openness, many countries are undertaking comprehensive surveys to investigate child labour. New global estimates by the ILO of the numbers of children who work, and of the numbers involved in each category of child labour for abolition, are presented in the Report. The estimates reveal several disturbing realities.
Some 180 million children aged 5-17 (or 73 per cent of all child labourers) are now believed to be engaged in the worst forms of child labour, comprising hazardous work and the unconditional worst forms of child labour. This amounts to one child in every eight in the world. Of the some 171 million children engaged in hazardous work, nearly two-thirds are under 15 and therefore require immediate withdrawal from this work and rehabilitation from its effects.
While 67 million children in the 5-14 age group are engaged in non- hazardous child labour that they should not be undertaking by virtue of their age, many more children (111 million) are involved in work that actually jeopardizes their well-being. Among older children aged 15-17 years (who are above the minimum age for employment), the estimates indicate that 59 million are involved in hazardous work. This represents an alarming 42 per cent of all working children in this age group.
Over eight million children worldwide are trapped in the unconditional worst forms of child labour. However, as the Report warns, this figure must be treated with great caution given the extreme difficulty of gathering data on these hidden and illegal activities.
Thus, despite the increasing commitment and efforts by governments, the social partners and civil society to tackle child labour, the problem
remains on a massive scale. Phenomena such as trafficking in children and increasing labour migration mean that all countries – developing, transition and developed alike – are affected to a greater or lesser extent by child labour. The figure for children engaged in hazardous work is considerably higher than was previously thought. The Report proposes that the time has come for the number and proportion of child labourers in a country’s child population, particularly those engaged in the worst forms of child labour, to be considered as key indicators of economic and social development.
Numbers of child labourers of course give only part of the dynamic global picture that A future without child labour sets out to portray. In order to understand this complex phenomenon, it is necessary to examine in detail the nature of boys’ and girls’ participation in work in different economic sectors and social contexts. Such examination can throw light on the causes and consequences of different types of work for different groups of children (for example, children of different sex, age, ethnicity and nutritional, health and socio-economic status). The Report suggests that some activities that appear harmless at first sight may in fact be damaging to the children involved, particularly in the long term; more research, however, is needed in this area.
Regardless of the economic sector in which it occurs, and almost by definition, child labour is associated closely with the unregulated informal economy, which is largely beyond the reach of formal institutions, including labour inspection services. Although media coverage has tended to focus public attention on certain groups of child labourers, such as street children, those in export-oriented manufacturing and those in commercial sexual exploitation by foreign tourists, such groups are numerically in the minority. The majority of working children, some 70 per cent, are in reality to be found in the agricultural sector, most often on small-scale family holdings, but also on commercial agricultural plantations. While this work may in some cases be natural, many aspects of it – for example, long hours, use of poisonous chemicals or inappropriate or dangerous equipment – can be extremely hazardous. Children in developing countries are not the only ones affected by the hazards of agricultural work. The Report shows that in some industrialized countries this sector accounts for the largest number of occupational fatalities of those under 18.
A future without child labour goes on to review children’s work in other economic sectors: fishing, manufacturing, tourism, domestic work, construction, mining and quarrying, and in the urban informal economy. Key aspects of children’s work are highlighted, illustrating the diversity of activities in which they engage, how boys and girls are often involved differently and how countries at all levels of economic development may be implicated. Attention is drawn to the many different hazards that children face through their work.
Some child labourers are highly visible, such as street children working in the urban informal economy. Others, such as child domestic workers, are effectively hidden from public view and are thus particularly vulnerable, including to physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Rather than working in formal sector establishments that produce for export, the majority of child labourers in manufacturing toil in supply chains producing for the domestic market, for example, in the production of fireworks, matches or incense sticks. A reported increase in home-based production of these and other goods, in response to heightened competitive pressures, brings with it an increased potential for exploitation of child labour. Such hidden groups of children present particular challenges for research and effective action.
Having reviewed children’s participation in what are generally legitimate sectors of economic activity, in which the type or conditions of work transform it into unacceptable child labour, A future without child labour
|xii||addresses the unconditional worst forms of child labour, which in all cases represent extreme violations of children’s rights. Labour practices such as child trafficking, debt bondage and forced recruitment into armed conflict, as well as child labour in prostitution, pornography and illicit activities such as the drugs trade, are tragically all too prevalent today. Although it is impossible to know the extent of such activities with any degree of precision, their devastating effects on their child victims are obvious and increasingly being brought to the world’s attention.
Just as no country is immune from child labour, similarly none is protected from the effects of shocks to development, such as financial crises, natural disasters, armed conflicts, the HIV/AIDS pandemic as well as effects of economic and social transition. Although such crises are often in the public eye, their impact on children, and in particular on child labour, is still relatively poorly understood. The Global Report shows how children’s lives are thrown into turmoil by such events and how they often, as a result, become more vulnerable to child labour.
Part I concludes by exploring, in the light of the foregoing examination of its varied manifestations, why child labour occurs, distinguishing between its immediate, underlying and structural or root causes. The Report shows that poverty, while inextricably linked to child labour, offers neither a straightforward nor a complete explanation for it. The various dimensions of poverty interact with other factors, which act at all levels from the individual girl or boy to the national economy and even beyond, to determine whether and which children work, go to school, do both or do neither. Inadequate social protection coupled with under-resourced, poor quality education systems play a large part in perpetuating child labour. Policy inconsistencies, such as the existence of a gap between the school-leaving age and the minimum age for employment, exacerbate the situation in many countries. Improved understanding of the interlinked causes of child labour paves the way for the design of more effective strategies to combat it. Such strategies are now being introduced and implemented on an unprecedented scale.
Part II of the Report is devoted to a review of the global response to child labour, through action taken at local, national and international levels, focusing on the work of ILO constituents with support from IPEC and other ILO programmes. National governments are, without doubt, the essential players in the abolition of child labour. Political commitment translated into concrete policy change backed by resource allocation in favour of children is the sine qua non for the effective abolition of child labour. In addition to providing the right legal framework, other key areas where governments can make a difference are in strategies for poverty reduction, including investments in social protection, social services and education, and in supporting targeted programmes to eliminate child labour.
Working closely with governments are the social partners – employers’ and workers’ organizations – who are uniquely placed to understand and to change the realities of the workplace so that child labour simply has no part to play. The Report illustrates the range of the initiatives taken by these organizations in recent years, from which lessons have been learnt for future work. Particularly promising are those initiatives involving strong tripartite partnerships, extending also to other organizations in civil society.
Partnerships operate horizontally at national level and also vertically between national, regional and international players. A future without child labour shows how such collaboration helps to build a supportive framework in which effective action to combat child labour can be taken within and between countries. For example, a joint research project between IPEC, UNICEF and the World Bank aims to strengthen the global information base on child labour
A FUTURE WITHOUT CHILD LABOUR
and its elimination, as well as to enhance national capacities to generate and analyse information. International cooperation is increasingly apparent in the fields of children’s rights, education and poverty reduction. Regional cooperation is emerging to combat trafficking and other cross-border phenomena affecting children. Recent agreements to eliminate child labour across entire sectors of economic activity, reached by international organizations of employers and workers together with actors at the national level, embody this spirit of cooperation at all levels. Such joint endeavours surely point the way forward.
Within the ILO, IPEC has been at the forefront of efforts to combat child labour since its establishment in 1992. The programme has undergone remarkable expansion particularly since 2000, and it currently works in 75 countries with 26 donor countries and organizations. IPEC stimulates and facilitates practical action on the ground by its many in-country partners, for example, in the form of ratification of Conventions and subsequent changes in laws and policies, awareness raising and community mobilization and building capacity in the various institutions with responsibility for children and child labour. It also supports direct interventions by government agencies, employers’ and workers’ organizations, non-governmental organizations and other civil society groups to assist child labourers and their families. From small beginnings in the early years of the programme, in which different approaches to child labour in particular industries and locations were tried and tested on a pilot basis, IPEC has progressively expanded its activities. Over time, policies have been broadened to target ever-larger numbers of children and families across entire geographical areas, industries or economic sectors, and through projects operating at subregional and regional levels.
Time-bound programmes represent the latest step in IPEC’s evolution; these aim to eliminate the worst forms of child labour in a country within a specified, and relatively short, period of time (five to ten years). These are ambitious undertakings; nearly 100,000 children are targeted in the first three countries to implement such programmes – El Salvador, Nepal and the United Republic of Tanzania.
The vast amount of project experience gained by IPEC and its partners over the past ten years could not be summarized in this Report. Instead, examples are given to illustrate the range of approaches applied to address child labour, spanning advocacy and social mobilization, education and training, social protection and welfare, rescue and rehabilitation, and monitoring and enforcement. Important lessons learned are highlighted: for example, the need to understand the problem by thorough research and consulting with a wide range of stakeholders, including children; the need for an integrated approach that combines prevention with rescue and rehabilitation; the need for viable economic alternatives for families to be in place before children are withdrawn from labour; the importance of local ownership of all project interventions; the central role of education in any strategy to combat child labour; and that efforts to combat child labour must be firmly embedded in overall national economic and social policy frameworks.
Part III of the Report traces the contours of a possible ILO action plan to combat child labour, for consideration by the ILO constituents and the Governing Body. It is built on three pillars: reinforcing IPEC’s work in advocacy, research and policy, and technical cooperation; mainstreaming the effective abolition of child labour across the ILO to achieve decent work for all and universal respect for the fundamental principles and rights at work; and forging closer partnerships between the ILO and other actors to achieve the shared goal of a world free of child labour.
A future without child labour demonstrates that many of the building blocks to achieve the goal of the effective abolition of child labour are in place and that progress is being made. However, much remains to be done. The ILO calls on all partners in this endeavour to redouble their efforts, to give all children, everywhere, the childhood and the future that they deserve.
 In line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989, a child means “every human being below the age of eighteen years”.
 The estimates relate to numbers of child labourers globally in the year 2000.