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Text of Child Labor Report's Introduction - 2002-05-06


Child labour: a large scale violation of children’s rights

1. The effective abolition of child labour is one of the most urgent challenges of our time. Today, we have a better grasp of the size and the shape of the problem: of the more than 200 million child labourers worldwide, some 180 million are now suspected to be toiling in the “worst forms” of child labour – those activities that the global community has unanimously agreed are inexcusable under any circumstances and must be eliminated without delay.

The persistence on such a scale of this violation of children’s basic human rights casts a shadow over us all.

A better understanding of the problem

2. We also have a better understanding of the factors that give rise to child labour and of its consequences. Child labour is clearly detrimental to individual children, preventing them from enjoying their childhood, hampering their development and sometimes causing lifelong physical or psychological damage; it is also detrimental to families, to communities and to society as a whole. As both a result and a cause of poverty, child labour perpetuates disadvantage and social exclusion. It undermines national development by keepingchildren out of school, preventing them from gaining the education and skills that would enable them as adults to contribute to economic growth and prosperity. As long as child labour continues, the ILO’s goal of decent work can never be achieved.

A worldwide movement against child labour

3. In recent years, a sea change in awareness of child labour has occurred across the world and this has strengthened countries’ attitudes with regard to its abolition. Little more than a decade ago, child labour was dismissed by many as an inevitable cultural phenomenon, and by some as non-existent. Before the early 1990s, there was no tripartite consensus on the urgency of dealing with child labour. Countries were hesitant to admit that it might exist within their borders, for fear of a negative international reaction, including possible trade sanctions. The situation at that time regarding child labour was largely one of denial, much as it has been for the related occurrence of forced labour.

4. A worldwide movement, involving the ILO’s constituents – governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations – and many other partners working together at international, national and local levels, has altered that irrevocably.

The end of the cold war created the political space for a franker discus- sion of the problem. Developing, transition and developed countries are today linked by a shared acknowledgement that child labour touches them all in some form and to some degree, and by partnerships to tackle the problem.

5. The past decade has seen an unprecedented convergence of thought and action around this cause, in recognition of the fact that the abolition of child labour is an issue at the heart of social and economic development and not at its margins. The ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) has, over its ten years of existence, become the largest single technical cooperation programme of the Organization. The ILO will mark the first World Day against Child Labour on 12 June 2002.

The effective abolition of child labour: one of the four fundamental principles and rights at work

6. It is thus no accident that the effective abolition of child labour features as one of the four principles concerning fundamental rights in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, along with freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. This followed directly on from its earlier inclusion in the indivisible package of rights at work endorsed in the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development.

Key milestones in the fight against child labour

7. The world’s gathering resolve to combat child labour is evidenced by a number of key milestones and actions:

— the long tradition of ILO standard setting and supervision in the field of child labour, dating from the very first session of the International Labour Conference in 1919 and leading up to the adoption of the umbrella Minimum Age Convention, 1973;

— the impetus given by the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1989;

— the experience gained by national governments working with IPEC;

— increased activism on child labour by employers’ and workers’ organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs);

— the unanimous adoption of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), and the subsequent campaign for its universal ratification and implementation;

— the designation of Conventions Nos. 138 and 182 as fundamental Conventions;

— research and action that have provided new insights into the causes, dimensions and means of reducing both poverty and child labour.

8. Along with wider recognition of the problem of child labour has come better knowledge and understanding of how to tackle it, and the determination to work together towards the common goal of its elimination.

The promotional approach of the ILO Declaration

9. The ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up reaffirms the framework for member States to respect the principle of the effective abolition of child labour.

As the Declaration’s preamble notes, “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 achieve fully their human potential” – a concept that takes on special significance with respect to children and child labour.

10. The obligations set out in the ILO Declaration are reciprocal. On the one hand, member States are obliged, to the best of their resources and fully in line with their specific circumstances, to respect, to promote and to realize the principles of the Declaration concerning fundamental rights. On the other hand, the Organization is obliged to assist its Members to achieve this goal.

This is a genuine partnership: where political will exists to eliminate child labour, the ILO will do what it can to support the efforts made by member States to do so. The commitment in the ILO Declaration that “labour standards should not be used for protectionist trade purposes, and that nothing in this Declaration and its follow-up shall be involved or otherwise used for such purposes” has further encouraged countries to seek assistance from the Organization, rather than to try to conceal or deny any problem that might exist. This practice had already started, through IPEC, even before the adoption of the Declaration.

11. The Declaration calls upon the ILO to make full use of its constitutional, operational and budgetary resources to support countries’ efforts. Of the four principles in the Declaration, the abolition of child labour has been the one for which the most resources have been mobilized, both internally and externally, thus enabling major support to be provided by the ILO. The wealth of experience gained by IPEC and other ILO programmes, working with a broad range of partners, provides a solid foundation for planning strategies for the future.

The scope of the Global Report

12. As part of the follow-up to the ILO Declaration, this Global Report presents a “dynamic global picture” relating to the effective abolition of child labour.

A stubborn problem that affects all countries

13. Part I traces the development of the worldwide movement against child labour and outlines the scope of the principle of effective abolition. It goes on to review the size and shape of the child labour problem in developing, transition and developed countries, and explores how this is exacerbated by different shocks to development, from HIV/AIDS to natural disasters. It demonstrates how different types of work can pose hazards for children, even some forms of work that, at first sight, might appear to be harmless. Part I concludes by highlighting key elements in our current understanding of the interrelated causes of child labour that together contrive to make this such a stubborn and persistent problem, despite serious efforts to eradicate it.

A wealth of experience in action to fight child labour

14. Part II reviews the growing body of experience in practical action to fight child labour. It examines the critical role of good information as a basis for effective action and considers the support being given at the international level to the fight against child labour, including that of the ILO and, in particular, IPEC. After outlining the key role played by national governments in demonstrating political commitment and providing the enabling environment for the abolition of child labour, the Report goes on to review action taken by employers’ and workers’ organizations, governments and other stakeholders, often with the support of IPEC and other ILO programmes. A selection of good practice examples of different forms of intervention against child labour is presented, indicating important lessons learned and laying the groundwork for an assessment of the effectiveness of ILO assistance in this field.

Priorities for future ILO technical cooperation

15. With a view to assisting the ILO Governing Body to determine priorities for future technical cooperation, Part III of the Report outlines a possible action plan against child labour built around three pillars: reinforcing the work of IPEC, mainstreaming child labour in the Decent Work Agenda and forging closer partnerships among the many actors working in this field.

16. Part III also presents suggested points for discussion at the 90th Session of the International Labour Conference in June 2002.

Progress made but no room for complacency

17. This first Global Report on the effective abolition of child labour under the follow-up to the ILO Declaration charts the significant progress that has been made towards achieving this goal but reveals that there is still a considerable way to go. The evidence presented affords more than ample reason for the ILO and its partners to redouble their efforts to create a world free of child labour.