Global Policy Forum

Child Labour - Slow Progress, Right Direction


By Gustavo Capdevila

Inter Press Service
June 13, 2006

Encouraging statistics pointing to a decline in child labour do not conceal the fact that the problem remains a major challenge in large parts of the world, said the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on the World Day Against Child Labour.

Between 2000 and 2004, the number of child workers dropped 11 percent, to 218 million. And the latest available figures put the total number of children involved in hazardous work at 126 million in 2004, reflecting a 26 percent reduction since 2000. Geir Myrstad, a project leader for the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), said the statistics show that "we are on the right track. Child labour can indeed be eliminated."

ILO Director-General Juan Somaví­a said last month that "We can end its worst forms in a decade, while not losing sight of the ultimate goal of ending all child labour." The ILO defines the worst forms of child labour as "all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict," as well as "the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances" or for illicit activities like "the production and trafficking of drugs."

The category also includes "work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children." Eric Sottas, director of the Geneva-based World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), said "We welcome the encouraging decrease in child labour around the world and the decrease of the worst forms of child labour. He told IPS, however, that the «OMCT remains concerned by the significant number of children still working in hazardous conditions, including victims of violence at work and of sexual and economic exploitation.»

The ILO «calls on governments to make the right policy choices for working children and to have the political will to ensure that the children who are working - who are by definition the poorest children in any country - get a fair share of economic growth and development,» Myrstad explained to IPS. For his part, Sottas said "It is fundamental to understand that families' lack of resources constitutes the main cause of child labour. Fighting against poverty is necessary to achieve the elimination of child labour.»

Another ILO recommendation refers to the need for a comprehensive approach to the fight against child labour, including participation in the campaign not only by labour ministries, but also by the ministries of education, finance and planning, said Myrstad.

He cited the example of directives issued by the government of Tanzania, in East Africa. The elimination of child labour has been placed «in the centre of the government's policies,» said Tanzania's minister of labour, Jumanne A. Maghembe, who is taking part in the International Labour Conference, which ends next week in Geneva.

In Tanzania, «We have set up an institutional framework based on which we can monitor and ensure that child labour is withdrawn or prevented at all stages,» said Maghembe. The national plan is implemented through a committee made up of the highest-level officials representing each ministry and other state institutions, he explained. Similar committees act at the district level, with the participation of provincial heads, experts and representatives of non-governmental organisations, as well as at the village level, to combat the worst forms of child labour, he said.

The Tanzanian government has also instituted universal primary education, free of charge, he noted. The local village committees make sure that any case of child labour is reported early, Maghembe said. Tanzania's penal code has been reformed so that anyone engaging in the worst forms of child labour is subject to one year in prison. «We think that within a period of five to ten years we should be able to have this scourge under control, » the minister said.

Brazil, another of the countries held up by the ILO as a model in the fight against child labour, also underlined that the effort requires a multi-pronged approach with commitments on many fronts. «The question of curbing child labour is not a result of a miraculous one-shot operation,» said Brazilian representative Carlos Antonio da Rocha Paranhos. «Reducing child labour must be a result of a continuous integrated effort in which you have programmes designed for child labour as well as perfect coordination of economic public policies, of policies designed to enhance the adoption of better salaries by the private sector,» he added.

The ILO reported that in 2004, there were 49.3 million children working in sub-Saharan Africa -- roughly 26 percent of minors in that region. This compared to 122 million in Asia (18 percent), and 5.7 million in Latin America and the Caribbean (5.1 percent). In the rest of the world, the total amounted to 13 million children, or 5.0 percent of all minors.



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