Child labor is a complex problem that requires comprehensive, multi-faceted solutions. This report has described some of the major strategies that are now being undertaken by governments and nongovernmental actors to eliminate child labor. Chapter II described the nature and extent of child labor in the 16 countries studied in this report: Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, and Turkey. Chapters III and IV addressed two of the most basic and traditional governmental approaches to preventing the premature entry of children into the work force: the enactment and enforcement of child labor legislation and the provision of universal, affordable primary education. Chapter V described targeted projects, implemented or advanced by governments, that focus on removing children from exploitative work and providing them with educational opportunities. These projects, often involving partnerships among governmental and nongovernmental actors, frequently complement efforts in law enforcement and education.
A. Child Labor in the World
While poverty is the reason most often given for why children work, child labor also perpetuates poverty, since children who must begin work at an early age often compromise their future earnings potential. Today, hundreds of millions of children are working around the world, often in occupations that are clearly harmful to their health and future development. Many millions of these children work full time and in dangerous or abusive conditions, deprived of opportunities for education and the accompanying promise of a better future.
As explained in Chapter II, child laborers are seldom found in large and medium-sized enterprises, except in commercial agriculture. Child laborers most often work in small workshops, home-based operations, informal mining and quarrying enterprises, and a myriad of service sector jobs--usually out of reach of legislation and labor inspection. Some children work in occupations that are especially hidden from the view of enforcement authorities and society, such as domestic servants and child prostitutes. These children, usually separated from their families, often suffer the worst exploitation.
The magnitude of the global child labor problem has grabbed the attention of the international community over the past few years, provoking worldwide discussion of the issue. This represents an important change from a decade ago, when few governments or organizations even acknowledged the problem. Today, numerous international organizations, governments in developing and industrialized countries, and nongovernmental actors are developing and implementing strategies and initiatives to address child labor.
B. The Importance of Reliable Child Labor Data
Accurately identifying the extent of child labor within a country is an essential step towards the development of effective strategies for eliminating and preventing the problem. As discussed in Chapter II, there is a great need for reliable child labor data--not only to assist governments in developing solutions but also to enable them to monitor progress. Significant problems in the collection and reporting of child labor data remain, but with the assistance of the International Labor Organization (ILO), efforts are now underway to improve data quality.
Some of the efforts being undertaken by individual countries to improve the accuracy of child labor data include:
C. Enactment and Enforcement
As described in Chapter III, all 16 countries studied for this report have laws prohibiting certain forms of work by children under a specified age and regulating the conditions of work for older children. Many of these countries have also ratified a number of international instruments addressing child labor, including ILO Convention No. 138 (Minimum Age for Employment) and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Chapter III outlined the basic and hazardous minimum work ages in each of the 16 countries, while Appendix D identified relevant child labor provisions in the laws of each of these countries. The minimum age for employment in these countries varies from 12 (Bangladesh, Peru, and Tanzania) to 16 years (Kenya). In some countries, there is one basic minimum work age, while in others, there are several age standards, depending on the industry or sector. Child labor legislation often applies only to certain sectors or exempts entire industries or occupations. The sectors most frequently excluded are those where the highest numbers of working children are found, such as small-scale agriculture, domestic service, and small-scale manufacturing. For example, in Kenya, the minimum work age of 16 years applies only to certain industrial undertakings. Likewise, in India and Pakistan, the minimum work age of 14 applies only to certain specified occupations and processes. In Nepal, the minimum work age of 14 does not apply to certain enterprises, such as plantations and brick kilns. Exceptions are also made in some countries for apprenticeships or educational work. In Brazil, for example, children under 14 are prohibited from working, except as apprentices. Employers sometimes use such exceptions to exploit children as a source of cheap and compliant labor.
All 16 countries studied have a minimum age for hazardous work, varying by country from 12 to 21 years. Some countries have a single minimum age for hazardous work, while others specify several such ages, depending on the type of work.
Some countries have a multitude of laws addressing child labor, often spanning decades, that may be inconsistent with one another or confusing to implement and enforce. In addition, inadequate fines and penalties for child labor law violations often undermine their overall effectiveness.
One of the most serious issues relating to child labor laws is their inadequate enforcement by many governments. In many countries, labor inspection is not a priority. Labor inspectorates often lack the vital resources and staff needed to reach remote areas and effectively monitor the child labor situation. Inspectors often receive little training, if any, and are often poorly paid, making them an easy target for corruption. In addition, they may not be motivated to enforce child labor laws if they do not perceive the employment of children as a problem, or believe that it is a necessary ill for many indigent families. Inspectors who do attempt to enforce labor laws may be faced with public indifference and hostility from employers.
A number of countries studied (including Bangladesh, Brazil, the Philippines, South Africa, and Thailand) have recently made or are considering changes to their child labor laws, including increasing the minimum age for employment, adopting uniform child labor regulations, and expanding coverage of child labor laws to additional sectors or occupations. Some countries (such as Brazil, Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines, Tanzania, and Turkey) are focusing on strengthening enforcement by increasing the number of labor inspectors, improving training, or implementing new strategies.
The fact that large numbers of children are still working, many under exploitative or hazardous conditions, indicates that significant action in the area of law and enforcement is urgently needed. Some countries faced with considerable numbers of child laborers are now taking steps to address shortcomings in their legislation and enforcement. Possible efforts in this area include:
D. Access to Universal Primary Education
Universal primary education, as noted in Chapter IV, is widely recognized as an important means of preventing and eliminating child labor. No country can successfully end child labor without making education compulsory and accessible to all. Children who are required to attend school are less likely to be engaged in exploitative work and are more likely to be informed of their rights. Education, over time, can provide children with the skills and knowledge necessary to become productive adults and improve their employment and earnings prospects. Despite the obvious benefits of education, tens of millions of children do not attend school. Most of these children are working.
Twelve of the 16 countries studied for this report have national laws making primary education compulsory (Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, and Turkey). The number of required years of schooling varies by country, from five (Bangladesh) to 11 years (Peru). Several countries, including Egypt, South Africa, and Turkey, have also recently passed laws extending their years of compulsory education.
In several of the countries studied for this report, the age for completion of compulsory education is not consistent with the minimum age of employment. When the minimum age for work is lower than the age for completing compulsory education, children might be compelled to abandon or neglect their studies and enter the work force. In the opposite case, when the minimum work age is higher than that for completing compulsory education, children who are unable to continue their education must either remain idle or work illegally, thereby making illegal child labor more commonplace and acceptable.
In many countries, primary education is neither compulsory nor affordable. Schools are frequently not available or accessible to all children. Even when schools are available, the quality of education may be poor and the content may be perceived by many children and their families as irrelevant to their lives. For poor families who depend on their children's earnings to make ends meet, the opportunity cost of sending their children to school is often seen as too high. Parents' reluctance to send their children to school is often exacerbated by the various costs of education, including school fees, supplies, books, uniforms, meals, and transportation.
In the 16 countries studied for this report, significant numbers of children are not going to school. The most recent country data on educational attainment shows that less than 70 percent of children are enrolled in or attending primary school in five of the countries studied (Guatemala, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Tanzania). In seven of the countries, less than 70 percent of children enrolled in primary school reach the fifth grade (Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nepal, Nicaragua, Pakistan, and South Africa).
Government spending on education varies widely among the 16 countries studied. Data on education spending by country for the most recent available year (1990 to 1997) shows that public expenditures on education as a percentage of GNP range from 1.7 percent (Guatemala) to 7.9 percent (South Africa). Education spending as a percentage of total government expenditures ranges from under 10 percent (Bangladesh and Pakistan) to over 20 percent (Mexico and South Africa), and primary school spending as a percentage of total public education expenditures ranges from 18 percent (Peru) to over 65 percent (Egypt and Nicaragua).
Access to education is often not equitable. Children in rural areas and those belonging to marginalized groups are frequently more affected by a lack of adequate educational infrastructure. Rural children are also more likely to work. Indeed, work can constitute a major impediment to children's attendance and successful completion of primary school. Working children have low enrollment and high absentee and dropout rates. These rates may be attributable to fatigue from long hours of labor, work related injuries and illnesses, and/or work schedules that are incompatible with school hours.
Some of the countries studied (Brazil, Egypt, the Philippines, and Turkey) have developed initiatives to make schools more accessible and improve the quality of primary education. Other countries (Guatemala, India, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and the Philippines) are implementing programs that provide alternative educational opportunities for working children or ease their transition from work to school. Finally, some countries (Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, and South Africa) are providing incentives to encourage families to send their children to school rather than to work.
While the impact of these policies and programs can only be assessed by future increases in the number of children attending and completing school, they provide an important indication of the level of government commitment to the provision of universal primary education in the 16 countries studied for this report. Steps that countries can take to accomplish this goal include:
E. Targeted Child Labor Initiatives
As Chapter V described, numerous targeted initiatives are now being implemented or advanced by governments to remove children from exploitative work and provide them with educational opportunities. These targeted child labor projects are being implemented by a wide range of actors, including NGOs, international organizations, trade unions, employer associations, and the media. Indeed, international organizations such as the ILO and UNICEF are playing an instrumental role in combating child labor in many countries.
The targeted initiatives discussed in Chapter V facilitate and complement efforts in law and enforcement and education. While the projects described in Chapter V focus on efforts implemented or advanced by governments, it is important to note that numerous NGOs around the world are independently undertaking significant initiatives to prevent and reduce child labor. The importance and value of such efforts cannot be overstated. In some instances where governments have failed to prevent adequately the exploitation of children, nongovernmental actors are playing major roles in helping working children and their families. Ultimately, however, governments have the greatest responsibility for eliminating child labor as well as the broadest resources for addressing the problem.
Several of the targeted child labor projects described not only remove children from exploitative work situations, but also provide supportive services such as educational opportunities for the children and income generation alternatives for their families. Often such multi-faceted and comprehensive programs are the most effective in eliminating and preventing the exploitation of children. Public awareness and education campaigns can also play an essential role. Because child labor is a complex problem, requiring comprehensive solutions, the participation of all social actors--including families, public officials, labor unions, industry groups, NGOs, and the international community--is necessary.
Chapter V provided an illustration of the types of efforts now underway to remove children from exploitative work. Many of these projects focus on eliminating child labor in a particular industry or sector, while some combat child labor in many sectors and areas. These projects vary in size, scope, and emphasis. In agriculture, projects described include initiatives to remove children from work in Tanzania's tea estates and tobacco farms, Brazil's sisal plantations, and Mexico's fruit and vegetable farms, as well as programs to eliminate rural bonded child labor in Nepal and Turkey. In manufacturing, projects described include initiatives in the Bangladeshi garment industry, the soccer ball industry of Pakistan, Nepal's carpet industry, and Brazil's shoe industry. A project to reduce child labor in the brick making and stone quarrying industries in Peru is also described. Finally, several efforts targeting child domestic workers, child commercial sex workers, trafficked children, and children living and working on urban streets in Brazil, Kenya, Nepal, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, Thailand, and Turkey are described.
Chapter V also described several multi-sectoral initiatives to combat child labor through the rescue, removal, and rehabilitation of children from exploitative work. These initiatives include projects in Brazil to stop children in rural areas from working and assure that they attend school on a regular basis, in India to establish nonformal schools and release thousands of children from hazardous work, and in the Philippines to rescue children from exploitative work.
Key elements of targeted child labor projects include:
F. Final Comments
This report has attempted to illustrate the extent to which the 16 countries are currently addressing their child labor situations through the enactment and enforcement of child labor laws, the provision of universal primary education, and the development of and involvement in targeted child labor initiatives. A government's participation in such efforts can provide an indication of its commitment to combating child labor. Accurately determining the extent and nature of child labor within each country is also essential in adequately addressing the child labor problem.
There has been a significant increase in international concern regarding the plight of working children around the world. Many countries with child labor problems have not only acknowledged the problem but have begun to develop and implement comprehensive strategies to combat the exploitation of children. International organizations such as the ILO and UNICEF are heavily involved in such efforts. It is important, however, to monitor and measure the effectiveness of these efforts, since successful strategies can and should be replicated elsewhere.
The information provided in this report can serve as a framework for further study and evaluation of the progress being made toward eliminating child labor in the countries studied. Ultimately, the best way to determine such progress is by documenting a reduction in the overall number of working children and an increase in the percentage of children attending school and completing at least a primary education.
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.