SEVEN REASONS WHY THE ILO SHOULD FOCUS ON ALL FORMS OF CHILD LABOUR IN ITS GLOBAL ACTION PLAN
A reaction to the ILO Global Report 2006 'The end of child labour: Within reach'
This year's International Labour Conference of the ILO will be take place between the 31st of May and the 16th of June. One of the items on the agenda is the new ILO Global Report 'The end of child labour: Within reach'. The report ends with a global action plan which proposes 'to pursue the goal of effective abolition of child labour by committing themselves to the elimination of all worst forms of child labour by 2016' [emphasis of ILO].
The ILO website tells us: 'During the International Labour Conference, the ILO will organize a plenary session with guest speakers/constituents of the organization on June 9th. The topic for the plenary will be focusing on progress in eliminating child labour and on the challenges ahead in eliminating the worst forms of child labour over the next decade. The plenary debate will be attended by high level authorities from governments, employers and workers organizations.'
The campaign 'Stop Child Labour – School is the best place to work'* urges the ILO and its constituents (governments, employers and trade unions) to adopt a comprehensive global action plan aiming to eradicate all forms of child labour according to ILO Conventions 138 and 182 and, in close co-operation with other agencies, ensure that all children up to at least 14 years of age will be able to receive free, full-time education.
Our arguments – supported by a statement of a successful movement against all forms of child labour in India – why the ILO should in its global action plan at the elimination of all forms of child labour and not to limit the global action plan to the worst forms, are the following:
1. Especially in the last few years both child labour conventions have been ratified by an unprecedented number of ILO member states. While C138 has now been ratified by 144 countries, C182 has been ratified by 160 countries. With a very large majority of all nations now having ratified both conventions, this should logically lead to a more comprehensive approach and programming of the ILO against child labour which is based on both Conventions. We therefore urge the ILO to devise a global action plan that helps to translate the international commitment of its member states into national policies and related activities. Actions focused on the worst forms of child labour should therefore take place in the broader framework of strategies and action programmes for the elimination of all forms of child labour in line with Conventions 138 and 182.
2. Examples in the Global Report itself (e.g. Brazil and China) but also the experiences of our partners in developing countries, e.g. in India, strongly indicate that it is much more effective to systematically address all forms of child labour that keep children out of (formal full-time) education and/or threatens their physical and mental health, than to focus on the elimination of the worst forms of child labour only. Many worst forms of child labour can only or more effectively be addressed if there is broader 'supporting environment'. Banning the 'worst forms', without having one group of exploited children replacing another, is therefore best achieved within a broader strategy which, including by social mobilization, creates and enforces a social norm that all children should be in school instead of work and follows this up by really creating access to education for all.
3. The ILO Global Report rightly states that 'perhaps the greatest progress has been made in recognizing the link between child labour elimination and Education for All (EFA). As all children have the right to education it would therefore be logical to focus on all forms of child labour that prevent children from benefiting from full-time education. A strategy based on both Conventions is needed for that. An important argument to focus on all forms of child labour needs to be added here. The minimum age for employment according to ILO Convention 138 is 15 year (developing countries can choose 14). Millennium Development Goal 2 (MDG 2) is stating that by 2015 all children should have access to at least four years of education. Therefore it is expected that many children leave school when they are 10 or 11 and enter the labour market much too young of age where they compete with adults. This definitely undermines the implementation of C138. A strong focus on its mandate regarding C138 as part of its global action plan and international advocacy by the ILO to extend MDG 2 to at least 8 years of education would therefore be required.
4. The eradication of child labour is, as also the Global Report clearly states, closely linked to the implementation of other ILO Conventions (in particular the fundamental labour rights) and other employment-related policies which can be summarized as 'decent work'. Experiences of governments, NGOs and unions in developing countries prove that child labour undermines the employment, bargaining position wages and labour conditions of adults. By organizing workers (especially in the informal sector) and social mobilization it is possible to tackle all forms of child labour. In sectors or regions where child labour is banned, the result is a better bargaining position of adults resulting in improved labour conditions and more decent employment.
5. Focussing mainly on the worst forms of child labour sends the wrong signal to companies that also for them it is enough if they deal with the worst forms of child labour only, including in their supply chain. A recent example is agro-multinational Monsanto.
6. Another argument that supports a comprehensive approach to tackling child labour can be seen in the figures presented in the report. It is positive that there is a decrease in the number of child labourers (from 245.5 million to 217.7 million). Closer look into the figures shows that there has been significant decease in the worst forms of child labour (from 170.5 million in 2000 to 126.3 million in 2004). At the same time we see an alarming rise of other forms of child labour from 75 million in 2000 to 91.4 million in 2004. An explanation for this is not given in the report. A further analysis, also into the unknown number of children presently not counted as child labour as they work at home, is required. We feel that this worrying trend supports our view that that all forms of child labour should be focused on instead of only the worst forms.
7. Finally: we do of course recognize that the ILO pursues the goal of the effective abolition of all forms of child labour. However focusing so strongly on the elimination of the worst forms by 2016, means that strategies targeting all forms will receive much less attention. The risk is that the efforts to reach this 'short-term' goal is not only less effective than it could be, but also jeopardizes reaching the long-term goal to eradicate all forms of child labour.
 Global Report – A response: http://www.indianet.nl/globalreportresponse.html
Het rapport ''The end of child labour: Within reach'
De volledige reactie van ''Stop Kinderarbeid'
Global Report – A response from India