Chatper I: Introduction
Child labour is simply the single most important source of child exploitation and child abuse in the world today. But there are grounds for optimism. The world we now know is radically different from what it was some 15 years ago. It offers new opportunities and possibilities and there is an emerging consensus that the world community has the duty and the obligation to combat especially those intolerable forms of child labour that still persist in much of industry, agriculture and services and in conditions of bondage and serfdom.
Child Labour: Targeting the Intolerable
The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) has, under Congressional mandate, been researching and documenting the use of child labor worldwide since 1993.1 This report is the fifth volume in ILAB's international child labor series.2
Until recently, child labor has not been widely recognized as an issue of important global concern. International public attention regarding child labor has steadily grown over the past few years, however, provoking worldwide discussion of both the problem and possible solutions. This increasing international concern has generated a variety of actions by governments and organizations to combat the exploitation of child labor.3 Unfortunately, some countries have still not seriously addressed their child labor problem. These countries often lack the political will and/or resources to implement actions that could significantly reduce the economic exploitation of children.
This report provides an assessment of the child labor situation in 16 countries.4 It reviews the extent and nature of child labor in these countries and establishes a framework that can be used in future studies to evaluate progress in eliminating the problem. The information contained in this report is based on material gathered during field visits to the 16 countries, testimony submitted to the Department of Labor, and various other reports and materials. Since uniform and reliable data were not available for all countries, this report does not attempt to make comparisons or rankings among countries. Nor does it compare the present situation to that of previous years. Rather, it serves as a baseline for further study.
While there are many policies and programs that can be implemented by governments that could have a positive impact on reducing child labor, this report focuses on three main areas: law and enforcement, provision of primary education, and the implementation or advancement of targeted initiatives to combat child labor. The ultimate goal of these actions is to move children out of inappropriate work and into situations where they can learn and develop to their full potential. Tens of millions of children today are deprived of this opportunity.
This introduction provides an overview of international standards on child labor and describes recent international developments. It also presents an initial discussion of three key areas where action may be undertaken to alleviate exploitative child labor. Finally, it describes the methodology used to prepare this report. Chapter II describes the nature and extent of child labor in the 16 countries examined for this report, including available data on the magnitude of child labor and an overview of the types of work children perform and the conditions under which they work.
The remaining chapters describe actions taken by governments and other actors to combat child labor in the 16 countries studied for this report. Chapter III focuses on efforts to reduce child labor through law and enforcement. It describes child labor laws, their enforcement, and current efforts to strengthen both the laws and their enforcement. Chapter IV describes governmental efforts to provide universal, primary education in the 16 countries, obstacles to school attendance, and several governmental initiatives to increase access to education. Finally, Chapter V describes targeted efforts to combat child labor and alleviate conditions that may lead to child labor. These efforts are either being implemented by governments or being facilitated through governmental policies, programs, or assistance. In the latter case, they may be implemented by international organizations, industry groups, labor unions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), or partnerships among any of these groups.
This report uses International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 138 on the Minimum Age for Employment as its principal standard on child labor. Under ILO Convention No. 138, the term "child labor" generally refers to any economic activity performed by a person under the age of 15.5 Not all work performed by children is detrimental or exploitative. Child labor does not usually refer to performing light work after school or legitimate apprenticeship programs. Nor does it refer to youths helping out in the family business, with household chores, or on the family farm. Rather, the child labor of concern is generally work that prevents effective school attendance or is performed under conditions hazardous to the physical and mental health of the child.6
In June 1998, representatives of governments and workers' and employers' organizations from 174 countries met at the ILO in Geneva to discuss a new convention on the worst forms of child labor. The draft convention calls on countries to take measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor and requires governments to establish plans of action aimed at prevention, rehabilitation, and elimination.7
Recent years have brought various notable international developments relating to child labor. The international community--including governments, international and non-governmental organizations, consumer activists, corporations, and the media--is becoming increasingly involved in child labor issues.
Until recently, child labor was not of major concern at either the national or international level, and the ILO was one of the few organizations addressing the issue.8 Today, 34 countries have joined the ILO's International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC), including 15 of the 16 countries studied in this report, and many more are interested in participating (see Box I-1). Governments' participation in IPEC can be seen as an important step towards acknowledging the existence of child labor and taking an active stance towards eliminating it. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), working with governmental and non-governmental partners, promotes universal access to quality and affordable primary education and the removal of children from exploitative work.9 In addition, international financial institutions such as the World Bank have begun to evaluate how their programs and actions may impact the situation of children.10
In the spring of 1998, over 1,400 NGOs around the world showed their concern for the plight of child workers by supporting the historic Global March against Child Labor. This march traveled for six months through more than 60 countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. The goals of the Global March were to raise awareness about child labor issues, urge governments to ratify and enforce laws protecting children and providing them education, demand the immediate elimination of the most exploitative forms of child labor, promote positive actions by employers and consumers, ensure the proper rehabilitation of child laborers, and mobilize greater national and international funding to support education for all children.11
Three large international conferences focusing on child labor brought together representatives of governments, workers, employers, and NGOs of industrialized and developing countries in Stockholm (1996), Amsterdam (1997), and Oslo (1997). A number of regional meetings and conferences also were held during this period. These international and regional meetings resulted in a variety of action agendas to combat child labor.
Until recently, many governments denied that exploitative child labor existed in their countries.12 Government leaders of developing countries rarely addressed the issue of child labor publicly, with the exception of notable statements made by former Indian Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in 1994, Brazilian President Henrique Cardoso in 1995, and former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1996.13
In 1998 alone, however, the heads of state of a number of developing and industrialized countries made high-profile statements on child labor, either acknowledging the problem or announcing their intention to address it. President Clinton, in his 1998 State of the Union Address, announced a new initiative to fight "the most intolerable practice of all--abusive child labor."14 In February 1998, President Henrique Cardoso stated that the "federal government is willing to use all its resources to remove children from [exploitative] work" and emphasized that the elimination of child labor must be a joint effort by mayors, governors, labor unions, churches, and civil society.15 Ugandan Prime Minister Kintu Musoke stated in a February 1998 speech that "child labor has become a reality in Africa, and if the situation remains unchecked, Africa risks losing all her efforts towards lasting development."16 In March 1998, South African President Nelson Mandela expressed his concern about the "large number of children subjected to child labor in South Africa and worldwide," and stated that it will take concerted action to "rescue our children from child labor and prevent a new generation of children from becoming victims."17
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, in an April 1998 speech, stated that "the problem of child labor occupies a prominent place in the priority agenda of the Government of Pakistan," and urged international organizations and human rights activists to continue their struggle for the rights of children.18 In a September 1998 statement addressing the impact of the Asian financial crisis on child labor, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung stated that "economic progress built with the thin, weak hands of children can never be the future of Asia," and added that "forcing children to discontinue their education and making them enter the dangerous labor market robs us of our future."19
Some countries have been part of regional commitments to eliminate child labor. Member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), for example, pledged to eliminate all hazardous child labor by the year 2000 and to end all forms of child labor by 2010.20 The Cartagena Declaration on the Eradication of Child Labor, signed by 18 Latin American states and Spain in May 1997, called for the progressive eradication of child labor and a rejection of child labor's most intolerable forms.21 A similar call for the abolition of child labor was made in February 1998 by delegates from 22 African states at the African Regional Tripartite Meeting on Child Labor, where, once again, priority was given to the suppression of the most extreme forms of chid labor.22
Another important development in recent years has been an increase in consumer awareness of child labor abuses around the world. Significant media coverage of the issue has generated consumer and corporate concerns regarding the use of exploitative child labor. These concerns have given rise to codes of conduct and labeling programs that prohibit the use of child labor in the manufacture of certain goods.23 A recent development in this area is the establishment of a code of labor practice by the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) and the Sydney Paralympic Organizing Committee (SPOC). The code requires these organizations to audit companies to ensure that they do not use child labor prior to licensing them to use the SOCOG/SPOC name or logo.24
The causes of child labor are many and complex--as are its solutions. This report identifies three key areas where concentrated action to reduce child labor may be most effective: 1) child labor law and enforcement; 2) provision of universal primary education; and 3) targeted programs to prevent exploitative child labor, remove children from work, and provide rehabilitation and other services to children and their families. One way to measure a country's commitment to ending exploitative child labor is to assess its level of effort in these three areas.
Successful eradication of exploitative child labor requires a clear governmental commitment. Two of the three areas listed above--implementing and enforcing adequate child labor laws and providing universal primary education--are largely the domain of governments. Targeted programs to combat child labor, however, are often the product of partnerships among other entities, including international and nongovernmental organizations, trade unions, and industry groups.
Ultimately, the best way to measure progress in eliminating child labor is with quantitative data showing a decline in the number of working children over time. Reliable child labor data are rare, but efforts are underway in several countries--with assistance from the ILO--to improve data collection methods. These efforts in and of themselves show a commitment by participating governments to address child labor in their countries.25 The current status of child labor data collection and ILO efforts in this area are discussed in further detail in Chapter II.
1. Child Labor Law and Enforcement
Child labor laws define when and under what circumstances a child can or cannot work. Adequate laws are thus an essential component in combating child labor. Almost every country has laws prohibiting the employment of children below a certain age. Nevertheless, child labor laws in many countries exclude certain sectors from their scope--often the very sectors where the highest numbers of working children are found.26 In some cases, penalties for violating child labor laws are inadequate. Probably the most common obstacle to adequate legal protection for children is the fact that existing legislation is not enforced.
National legislation on child labor may be complemented by ratification of international treaties. The two primary international treaties on child labor are ILO Convention No. 138 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
2. Education Initiatives
Education equips children with fundamental life skills--literacy, numeracy, and critical thinking ability. Education is perhaps the most important investment a society can make in its young. Denying education to working children can marginalize them for life and impoverish the future of a country.27
Compulsory and accessible education reinforces child labor legislation. Every full-time student is one less full-time child worker. Many developing countries have adopted compulsory education laws but have not made school a viable option for all children. In many cases, schools are not accessible or the cost of attending school is prohibitive. Available schooling may be of poor quality or be perceived by some families as irrelevant. About 145 million children between the ages of six and 11, or one-fifth of all children in this age group, mostly in low-income countries, are not in school.28
3. Targeted Efforts to Combat Child Labor
The concentrated use of child labor in certain highly visible industries has, in some cases, led to the development or advancement by governments of programs to phase out the use of child labor in those industries. Often these programs are spurred by intense media attention or public campaigns calling attention to child labor abuses. Participation by industry or labor groups, NGOs, and international organizations such as the ILO and UNICEF is common.
There is increasing consensus that to be effective, such targeted programs need to do more than remove children from work. Removal alone, without ensuring children's access to education and other services, could have harmful consequences for children and their families. Therefore, it is important that the removal of children from work be accompanied by a range of supportive measures.29
Myriad other social programs aimed at poverty alleviation, health and nutrition, and income generation and employment creation for adults can also help reduce and prevent child labor. Such programs, which address underlying social and economic conditions that contribute to child labor, are often long-term efforts that do not produce immediate results. The wide range of important development programs that could be seen as having a beneficial impact on reducing poverty and thereby child labor are beyond the scope of this report. Rather, this report focuses on programs directly aimed at the prevention and elimination of child labor and the reintegration of children into school and family life.
This report reviews the extent and nature of child labor in 16 countries and describes current efforts to eradicate it. These efforts include enactment and enforcement of child labor legislation, promotion of education initiatives, and implementation of initiatives targeted at preventing and combating child labor. The child labor efforts and initiatives discussed in this report do not, however, represent an exhaustive list of initiatives to eradicate child labor in the 16 countries studied.
This report does not evaluate the relative effectiveness of many of the programs presented, given the relatively short period of time that many of them have been in place. However, where information is available on the impact of a given effort, this information is included.
To gather information for this report and supplement publicly available information, the U.S. Department of Labor held a public hearing and conducted field visits to 16 countries in various regions of the world. This report covers only these 16 countries. The sources of information for the report are described in more detail below.
The U.S. Department of Labor held a public hearing to gather information for this report on February 13, 1998. Public notice of the hearing was given through the Federal Register.30 Letters of invitation to the hearing were sent to a wide range of domestic and foreign groups, including human rights groups, international organizations, trade unions, corporations, trade associations, consumer groups, and foreign governments. They were invited to present oral testimony, submit a written statement for the record, or both. The record was kept open for written statements until February 25, 1998.
Eight witnesses attended the hearing and presented oral testimony; seven of these witnesses also presented written statements for the record. In addition, 59 individuals, foreign governments, and organizations submitted written statements for the record.31
2. Field Visits
From February through June 1998, U.S. Department of Labor officials traveled to 16 countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, and Turkey. The objective of the visits was to learn about the extent and nature of child labor in these countries and the ongoing efforts to eradicate it. These countries were selected because (1) allegations of child labor were documented in previous ILAB reports32 and/or (2) significant efforts are currently underway to eradicate child labor. In planning the field visits, U.S. Department of Labor officials met in Washington, D.C. with embassy representatives of the countries to be visited as well as with NGOs knowledgeable about child labor issues in these countries. Labor reporting officers, labor attaches, and other officials in U.S. embassies and consulates abroad provided significant assistance in planning the field visits.
In each of the 16 countries visited by U.S. Department of Labor officials, interviews were held with as many relevant persons and organizations as possible. These included government officials, employers (including manufacturers, production managers, and growers), trade associations, trade unions, workers, community activists, human rights groups, academics, journalists, international organizations, children's organizations, and other NGOs. In some countries, U.S. Department of Labor officials also visited production facilities, including factories, workshops, and farms. Appendix A contains a list of meetings held during the visits.
3. Other Reports and Materials
A wide variety of other reports and materials collected by ILAB's International Child Labor Program were also considered in preparing this report. These include materials from a number of international organizations, NGOs, trade unions, and employers' groups, as well as published news reports and information received from U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Information from Volumes I through IV of the U.S. Department of Labor's international child labor series is also included in the report as appropriate.
This report was produced by the staff of the International Child Labor Program and is published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs.