Part III. Towards an action plan for the effective abolition of child labour

  1. Child labour and the Decent Work Agenda
  2. The scale and complexity of child labour dictate that neither IPEC, nor indeed the whole of the Organization, acting alone, can solve the problem. The ideas set out here naturally focus on what can be done by the Office working with the tripartite constituents and other partners and building on the work of IPEC. But real progress will result only from coherent, nationally owned and driven policies that focus on children and lead to positive change in the com­munities in which they live and work. The active involvement of employers, workers and their respective organizations, government and a wide range of policy-makers, non-governmental organizations and the media will continue to be crucial, and international organizations will need to strengthen their col­laboration. Experience shows that children themselves must be more involved if action is to address fully their needs and rights. The powerlessness of chil­dren compared to adults is often at the root of their exploitation. All action to fight child labour must be firmly based on the notion of promoting the best in­terests of the child.
  3. The goal of decent work for all women and men cannot be achieved un­less child labour is abolished. Decent work brings together the ILO strategic objectives of fundamental principles and rights at work, employment and in­come opportunities, social protection and social dialogue and tripartism in a development-oriented and gender-equitable vision to guide economic and so­cial policy choices.
  4. As we have seen, child labour is a stubborn problem that manifests itself The Decent Work in different ways and to different extents in all countries, regardless of the Agenda and an level and type of economic and social development. It comes about and is per- integrated approach petuated by interlinked immediate, underlying and structural or root causes.

Only by tackling these causes together will the problem be eliminated. For ex­ample, poverty reduction and improved schooling are definitely necessary to abolish child labour, but they must be accompanied by innovative social pro­tection systems to reduce the vulnerability of marginal groups, including chil­dren. Participation in an inclusive democracy, through social dialogue and other means, is essential if children are to be protected and allowed to develop their full potential. The Decent Work Agenda embodies just such an integ­rated approach to development. Respect for the four principles of the Decla­ration provides a cornerstone of this agenda.

  1. Possible contours of an action plan
  2. Over the past decade or so, consensus has grown at the international, na­tional and local levels that the abolition of child labour represents both a de­sirable and a necessary goal for development. Advocacy and action to combat child labour have also intensified in this period, including that by IPEC and other parts of the ILO together with the tripartite constituents.

What next? 380. The question now is, “What next?” What more can ILO constituents, partners and the Office do to get children out of exploitative work and into schools and to prevent others from entering child labour? The Global Report under the follow-up to the Declaration offers a new vehicle for assessing, at four-year intervals, the effectiveness of assistance provided by the Organiza­tion in relation to the effective abolition of child labour. What can we do be­tween now and 2006 to ensure that the next Global Report on this topic can proclaim the achievement of greater respect for the principle of the effective abolition of child labour?

An added sense of 381. The deeper understanding we now have of child labour, its nature, urgency causes and consequences, and how it is differentiated according to the sex and age of children, provides us with a stronger foundation on which to build stra­tegies for abolition. The new ILO estimates on the extent of children’s involve­ment in hazardous work and other worst forms of child labour give an added sense of urgency to the work at hand. But the review of action taken so far shows that there are no blueprints or ready-made, universal solutions. While we have a grasp of the basic architecture of effective policies and programmes for the abolition of child labour, their design at country level must remain flex­ible so that they can respond to different and constantly changing national cir­cumstances.

  1. Given this, an action plan for the ILO can perhaps most usefully focus on what could be done over the coming four-year period to strengthen the sup­port the Organization gives to national stakeholders for their action to abolish child labour, particularly its worst forms. The four principles in the ILO De­claration and the strategic objectives of the Decent Work Agenda should play an integral part in the development of such an action plan.

Three pillars of an action 383. Such a plan would rest on three pillars:

The first pillar is to reinforce the work of IPEC.

■ The second pillar is to mainstream the abolition of child labour more actively across other ILO programmes and strengthen cross-sectoral collaboration and policy integration to this end.

  • The third pillar is to forge closer partnerships with employers’ and workers’ organizations, as well as with other institutions and groups that share the goal of abolishing child labour.

Reinforcing the work of IPEC

  1. IPEC continues to press for the progressive elimination of all child labour, with first priority being given to the urgent elimination of its worst forms. The gradual shift in its emphasis from being primarily a deliverer of operational programmes to a catalyst, facilitator and advocate for the child labour cause is expected to continue and intensify. The first pillar of an ILO action plan could reinforce IPEC’s ongoing work in advocacy, policy develop­ment and research, and technical cooperation and advisory services in various ways, as outlined below.
  2. At the national level such means of action converge in the country and time-bound programmes, which combine advocacy, awareness raising, ratifi­cation and legislative action, direct assistance to children, families and com­munities, capacity-strengthening of different actors and policy support. Such convergence is mirrored at headquarters by ensuring that the different facets of IPEC’s work are closely integrated, for example through the use of system­atic feedback from “hands-on” programme delivery to provide information for child labour policy development and advocacy.
  3. A further dimension to enhance IPEC’s work could address the manage­ment and administrative environment in which the programme operates. Act­ing on the recommendations of the IPEC International Steering Committee, reporting to the ILO Governing Body could be streamlined. Ways could be found to attract and accept voluntary funding from non-traditional sources. More generally, this would involve accelerating the Office-wide reforms now under way to enhance support for programme delivery (for example, financial procedures, human resources development and harmonization of programme databases).
  4. The major steps that could be taken specifically to reinforce IPEC’s work can be grouped under advocacy, research and policy, and technical cooperation.


  • To maintain awareness worldwide of the urgency of the task of the abolition of child labour, particularly its worst forms, and to mobilize constituents, communities and children around this cause.
  • To reinforce the ILO’s “clearing-house” function to collect, document and widely publicize good practice examples for a wide range of audiences.
  • To keep up the momentum of the campaigns for universal ratification of Convention No. 182, for broader ratification of Convention No. 138, and for full implementation of all child labour instruments, in collaboration with other relevant ILO units.
  • To advocate the abolition of child labour in the context of respect for all four fundamental principles and rights at work under the framework of the ILO Declaration.
  • To consider organizing a “Convention No. 182 plus five” event in 2005 (five years after the Convention entered into force) as a prelude to the next Global Report on the effective abolition of child labour in 2006.
  • To highlight regularly ILO success stories in the fight against child labour through the media and using other communications technologies.

Research and policy

  • To continue to strengthen national capacity to undertake research on child labour, using a variety of techniques that allow analysis and understanding of both qualitative and quantitative dimensions.
  • To develop and apply new gender-sensitive research tools, and participatory ways of using them, especially for hidden groups of children working in the worst forms of child labour, including in illicit activities.
  • To undertake analysis and share findings on hazardous work and its effects on children of different ages, sex, socio-economic and health status.
  • To reinforce policy research and development in emerging areas of concern, particularly those relating to the impact of HIV/AIDS and of other development shocks on child labour.
  • To strengthen “how to” knowledge in the monitoring of former, current and potential child labourers in workplaces and communities, including new multi-stakeholder approaches to monitoring in the informal economy and of the worst forms of child labour.

Technical cooperation

  • To step up support to integrated, time-bound programmes for the abolition of the worst forms of child labour in countries where governments demonstrate real commitment through cooperation involving allocation of their own resources.
  • To continue support to programmes targeting the creation of child- labour-free sectors and geographical areas.
  • To select from among existing country programmes those ready for evolution to comprehensive time-bound programmes (as resources permit), and to develop approaches to allow for a smooth transition.
  • To foster sustainability by continuing to strengthen the capacity of governments, the social partners and other civil society partners, expanding the IPEC networking initiative and encouraging better in­country coordination of information about children and child labour.
  • To build local ownership of interventions by ensuring broad-based and meaningful participation of different groups of stakeholders, including communities and children.
  • To continue to document the positive and negative lessons learned through technical cooperation, and to disseminate these widely to provide information for future policy and programme design within the ILO and by interested regional, national and international actors.
  • To promote the mainstreaming of the abolition of child labour in national development policies and programmes and in international efforts to eliminate poverty.
  • To encourage countries to enter into bilateral and/or multilateral agreements to tackle cross-border issues, such as migration, trafficking of children and pornography on the Internet.

Mainstreaming the effective abolition of child labour in the Decent Work Agenda

  1. The second pillar of an ILO action plan could consist of efforts to ensure that the abolition of child labour is taken up actively and consistently as a goal across the Organization, in the context of the Decent Work Agenda. This would imply:
  • more joint activities between IPEC and other ILO units and programmes in the field and at headquarters, building on the significant number ex­isting already;
  • more initiatives that address the abolition of child labour as a specific objective by other units and programmes with relevant expertise.
  1. A further dimension would intensify the technical and administrative in­tegration of IPEC at country and subregional levels into overall ILO country and regional programmes. Integrated frameworks for promoting decent work, developed at national level, will provide the opportunity to ensure that the ef­fective abolition of child labour features as a key component in a coherent ILO country-based approach to decent work.
  2. Some practical suggestions for consideration under this second pillar of a possible action plan are:
  • To strengthen existing and to initiate new cross-sectoral collaboration in child labour programmes, for example, in innovative approaches to social protection in the informal economy, and the use of microfinance and micro-enterprise development for family income replacement following withdrawal of child labourers.
  • To accumulate and disseminate knowledge of how respect for the other three categories of fundamental principles and rights at work contributes to the effective abolition of child labour, how reduction of child labour is linked to the achievement of other decent work goals in labour standards, employment, social protection and social dialogue, and how any tensions or trade-offs in the long or short term can most effectively be resolved.
  • To inaugurate an online yearbook of child labour statistics and to consider the development of a “child labour risk index” as an early warning and monitoring tool for child labour.
  • To construct tools to enable governments to measure the extent to which expenditure under national budgets supports the goal of the abolition of child labour.
  • To encourage all programmes to consider explicitly, when planning activities, their potential impact on children and child labour; to introduce systematic monitoring and reporting by all operational programmes on the child labour aspects and implications of their work.
  • To integrate child labour issues into ILO-sponsored meetings and activities on related topics, to highlight linkages to the other fundamental principles and rights at work, and to promote media coverage of these issues.

Forging closer partnerships

  1. Thus far, our focus has been on what the ILO can do to reinforce its fight against child labour. This is a problem, however, that cannot be effectively tackled by the ILO alone; hence the imperative of reinforcing and extending partnerships. This third pillar of an action plan for the effective abolition of child labour could include action:
  • To reinforce global alliances for the abolition of child labour as a fundamental human rights issue at the core of social and economic development.
  • To fortify broad-based, “tripartite-plus” networks for advocacy and action against child labour, in ways that draw upon the strengths of employers’ and workers’ organizations.
  • To promote new ways to ensure that the voices and perspectives of children, their parents and the communities in which they live and work are heard and taken into account when action to combat child labour is discussed, planned and implemented at all levels, from local to international.
  • To apply the ILO perspective and experience in the field of child labour to planning and implementation for the broad goals of the international community in poverty reduction, education for all, gender equality, health and other relevant areas.
  • To encourage all partners to take into account the recommendations of major international meetings, especially those of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children (May 2002), as they relate to child labour and the work of the ILO.
  • To urge international players to integrate the effective abolition of child labour as an explicit objective into all relevant macroeconomic and social policy frameworks (for example, in the lending strategies, procurement guidelines and country assistance strategies of the international financial institutions, the United Nations Development Assistance Frameworks, bilateral donors’ aid frameworks, etc.).
  • To advocate for inclusion of the incidence of child labour as a key indicator in national poverty reduction and development policy frameworks, including Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers.
  • To engage in mutually reinforcing partnerships with other organizations in initiatives to combat child labour in ways that exploit the special strengths of the ILO to a maximum, and to draw on the complementary strengths of partners (for example, the International Organization for Migration on trafficking, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent on child soldiers, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on the impacts of disease on child labour).
  • To expand or reinforce partnerships with professional organizations in areas such as occupational health, vocational training and other topics of relevance to child labour, and with academic institutions for action- oriented research.
  • To forge multi-partner alliances in economic sectors where children are at particular risk of child labour, building on experiences such as those in the tobacco and cocoa industries.
  • To mobilize resources from multiple partners so as to enhance financial and technical support for integrated, time-bound programmes in member States that bring significant political commitment and their own resources to bear on the problem.

The three ILO means of 392. The three-pillar approach outlined above would also lend itself to an as- action sessment, four years from now, of the effectiveness of the assistance provided by the Organization to its member States in their efforts to abolish child labour. It would involve the ILO’s three main means of action – normative and promotional work, advocacy backed up by research, and operational technical cooperation programmes – all undertaken through close cooperation between the ILO constituents and other partners at local, national and international levels.

Suggested points for discussion

  1. What are the best ways to ensure that the abolition of child labour is in­tegrated into broader national policy agendas?
  2. What is the best division of respective roles and responsibilities be­tween national partners and the ILO in the context of implementation of time- bound programmes for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour?
  3. In the light of their experience so far, how can employers, workers and their representative organizations most effectively participate in action against child labour?
  4. The recent figures released by the ILO show that children in the worst forms of child labour represent a high proportion of the total number of child labourers. What conclusions should policy-makers, employers’ and workers’ organizations and the ILO draw from this for national action and for the future orientation of technical cooperation programmes?


Annex 1

ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up

Whereas the ILO was founded in the conviction that social justice is essential to universal and lasting peace;

Whereas economic growth is essential but not sufficient to ensure equity, so­cial progress and the eradication of poverty, confirming the need for the ILO to promote strong social policies, justice and democratic institu­tions;

Whereas the ILO should, now more than ever, draw upon all its standard­setting, technical cooperation and research resources in all its areas of competence, in particular employment, vocational training and working conditions, to ensure that, in the context of a global strategy for eco­nomic and social development, economic and social policies are mutu­ally reinforcing components in order to create broad-based sustainable development;

Whereas the ILO should give special attention to the problems of persons with special social needs, particularly the unemployed and migrant workers, and mobilize and encourage international, regional and national efforts aimed at resolving their problems, and promote effective policies aimed at job creation;

Whereas, in seeking to maintain the link between social progress and eco­nomic growth, the guarantee of fundamental principles and rights at work is of particular significance in that it enables the persons con­cerned to claim freely and on the basis of equality of opportunity their fair share of the wealth which they have helped to generate, and to achieve fully their human potential;

Whereas the ILO is the constitutionally mandated international organization and the competent body to set and deal with international labour stand­ards, and enjoys universal support and acknowledgement in promoting fundamental rights at work as the expression of its constitutional prin­ciples;

Whereas it is urgent, in a situation of growing economic interdependence, to reaffirm the immutable nature of the fundamental principles and rights embodied in the Constitution of the Organization and to promote their universal application;

The International Labour Conference,

  1. Recalls:
  • that in freely joining the ILO, all Members have endorsed the prin­ciples and rights set out in its Constitution and in the Declaration of Philadelphia, and have undertaken to work towards attaining the overall objectives of the Organization to the best of their resources and fully in line with their specific circumstances;
  • that these principles and rights have been expressed and devel­oped in the form of specific rights and obligations in Conventions recognized as fundamental both inside and outside the Organiza­tion.
  1. Declares that all Members, even if they have not ratified the Conventions in question, have an obligation arising from the very fact of membership in the Organization, to respect, to promote and to realize, in good faith and in accordance with the Constitution, the principles concerning the fundamental rights which are the subject of those Conventions, namely:
  • freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
  • the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour;
  • the effective abolition of child labour; and
  • the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
  1. Recognizes the obligation on the Organization to assist its Members, in response to their established and expressed needs, in order to attain these objectives by making full use of its constitutional, operational and budgetary resources, including by the mobilization of external resources and support, as well as by encouraging other international organizations with which the ILO has established relations, pursuant to article 12 of its Constitution, to support these efforts:
  • by offering technical cooperation and advisory services to promote the ratification and implementation of the fundamental Conven­tions;
  • by assisting those Members not yet in a position to ratify some or all of these Conventions in their efforts to respect, to promote and to realize the principles concerning fundamental rights which are the subject of those Conventions; and
  • by helping the Members in their efforts to create a climate for eco­nomic and social development.
  1. Decides that, to give full effect to this Declaration, a promotional follow­up, which is meaningful and effective, shall be implemented in accord­ance with the measures specified in the annex hereto, which shall be considered as an integral part of this Declaration.
  2. Stresses that labour standards should not be used for protectionist trade purposes, and that nothing in this Declaration and its follow-up shall be invoked or otherwise used for such purposes; in addition, the compara­tive advantage of any country should in no way be called into question by this Declaration and its follow-up.


Follow-up to the Declaration

  1. Overall purpose
  2. The aim of the follow-up described below is to encourage the efforts made by the Members of the Organization to promote the fundamental principles and rights enshrined in the Constitution of the ILO and the Declaration of Philadelphia and reaffirmed in this Declaration.
  3. In line with this objective, which is of a strictly promotional nature, this follow-up will allow the identification of areas in which the assistance of the Organization through its technical cooperation activities may prove useful to its Members to help them implement these fundamental princi­ples and rights. It is not a substitute for the established supervisory mechanisms, nor shall it impede their functioning; consequently, spe­cific situations within the purview of those mechanisms shall not be ex­amined or re-examined within the framework of this follow-up.
  4. The two aspects of this follow-up, described below, are based on existing procedures: the annual follow-up concerning non-ratified fundamental Conventions will entail merely some adaptation of the present modalities of application of article 19, paragraph 5(e) of the Constitution; and the global report will serve to obtain the best results from the procedures car­ried out pursuant to the Constitution.
  5. Annual follow-up concerning non-ratified fundamental Conventions
  6. Purpose and scope
  7. The purpose is to provide an opportunity to review each year, by means of simplified procedures to replace the four-year review introduced by the Governing Body in 1995, the efforts made in accordance with the Declaration by Members which have not yet ratified all the fundamental Conventions.
  8. The follow-up will cover each year the four areas of fundamental princi­ples and rights specified in the Declaration.
  9. Modalities
  10. The follow-up will be based on reports requested from Members under article 19, paragraph 5(e) of the Constitution. The report forms will be drawn up so as to obtain information from governments which have not ratified one or more of the fundamental Conventions, on any changes which may have taken place in their law and practice, taking due ac­count of article 23 of the Constitution and established practice.
  11. These reports, as compiled by the Office, will be reviewed by the Gov­erning Body.
  12. With a view to presenting an introduction to the reports thus compiled, drawing attention to any aspects which might call for a more in-depth discussion, the Office may call upon a group of experts appointed for this purpose by the Governing Body.
  13. Adjustments to the Governing Body’s existing procedures should be ex­amined to allow Members which are not represented on the Governing Body to provide, in the most appropriate way, clarifications which might prove necessary or useful during Governing Body discussions to supple­ment the information contained in their reports.
  • Global report
  1. Purpose and scope
  2. The purpose of this report is to provide a dynamic global picture relating to each category of fundamental principles and rights noted during the preceding four-year period, and to serve as a basis for assessing the ef­fectiveness of the assistance provided by the Organization, and for deter­mining priorities for the following period, in the form of action plans for technical cooperation designed in particular to mobilize the internal and external resources necessary to carry them out.
  3. The report will cover, each year, one of the four categories of fundamen­tal principles and rights in turn.
  4. Modalities
  5. The report will be drawn up under the responsibility of the Director- General on the basis of official information, or information gathered and assessed in accordance with established procedures. In the case of States which have not ratified the fundamental Conventions, it will be based in particular on the findings of the aforementioned annual follow-up. In the case of Members which have ratified the Conventions concerned, the report will be based in particular on reports as dealt with pursuant to article 22 of the Constitution.
  6. This report will be submitted to the Conference for tripartite discussion as a report of the Director-General. The Conference may deal with this report separately from reports under article 12 of its Standing Orders, and may discuss it during a sitting devoted entirely to this report, or in any other appropriate way. It will then be for the Governing Body, at an early session, to draw conclusions from this discussion concerning the priorities and plans of action for technical cooperation to be imple­mented for the following four-year period.
  7. It is understood that:
  8. Proposals shall be made for amendments to the Standing Orders of the Governing Body and the Conference which are required to implement the preceding provisions.
  9. The Conference shall, in due course, review the operation of this follow­up in the light of the experience acquired to assess whether it has ade­quately fulfilled the overall purpose articulated in Part I.

The foregoing is the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up duly adopted by the General Confer­ence of the International Labour Organization during its Eighty-sixth Session which was held at Geneva and declared closed the 18 June 1998.

IN FAITH WHEREOF we have appended our signatures this nineteenth day of June 1998.

The President of the Conference,


The Director-General of the International Labour Office,


Annex 2

Table of ratifications of ILO Conventions Nos. 138 and 182 and annual reports submitted under the Declaration follow­up in relation to the effective abolition of child labour

No. 138 – Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (116 ratifications by 1 February 2002)

No. 182 – Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (115 ratifications by 1 February 2002)