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DCI’s Position on Child Labour: A Contribution to Debate and Practice

  1. DCI's mandate with regard to the problem of child labour is firmly based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Article 32 in particular. This Article recognises the child’s right to protection from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

  2. In addition to this Article ensuring children’s protection from economic exploitation, DCI stresses that the emphasis should be on the rights of children in general and specifically to education (Arts. 28 and 29), leisure (Art. 31) and protection, thus providing them the best possible chances for healthy development during childhood. Through this perspective, DCI considers that not all forms of work are harmful for the child. For example, work that has an educational content, develops professional skills, helps to socialise and integrate the child into the society in which he/she lives can be beneficial, provided this work does not interfere with learning at school and has no harmful effects on the child’s development.

  3. DCI has been extensively involved in the debate around the definition of child labour and of harmful/beneficial work. DCI has contributed to the debate as a Movement, not only on its own, but also in collaboration with other international organisations. However, there are still some ideological differences within DCI as a Movement. The majority of the sections believe there is an important difference between child labour and child work, but a few sections think the distinction is often blurred and may be dangerous. Moreover, these sections often agree that defining child work as educational may lead to misperceptions.

  4. However, DCI is united in the view that a child’s rights perspective is necessary to analyse child labour. The CRC guarantees a series of rights, which ensure the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. When the rights to development are violated, the work the child is performing is harmful.

  5. The full exercise of the child’s rights is considered a fundamental criterion for the definition of harmful work. DCI also supports the criterion of the minimum age of employment. If the child is below the minimum age allowed for employment, but is nevertheless working and his/her rights to development are somehow violated, the performed activity is harmful and may therefore be considered as child labour.
    Such a debate has also questioned whether DCI should be in favour of the child’s rights to work. Given the differences in national conditions and the various factors contributing to child labour, some DCI sections have adopted a position defending the child’s right to work, as long as the activity the child is engaged in is not violating his/her rights.

  6. DCI recognises that child labour is a multidimensional phenomenon. Its main cause is Poverty but the economic dimension interacts with several other factors. In communities where children have traditionally worked alongside family members, child labour may seem a natural contribution to family survival. When this is combined with poor access to schools, and/or parental lack of interest or confidence in education, there is little alternative. In addition, some traditional beliefs relating to children can make them more likely to be exploited or treated carelessly or cruelly, e.g. children of stigmatised groups, a culture in favour of practices relating to child punishment.

  7. DCI supports the strategy of giving priority to the elimination of the most intolerable forms of child labour. The most intolerable is the exploitation of children in hazardous working conditions, which endanger the lives of children or impede their healthy development. Some examples of dangerous conditions are: separation from their families; physical and sexual abuse; prostitution; bonded or slave labour; excessively long working hours; heavy loads; underground and under water work as in the mine and fishing industries; exposure to pesticides and dangerous tools and equipment as in agriculture; danger in city streets including heavy traffic and pollution. These are just some examples, as sections may consider additional categories or may exclude some of the ones stated above on the basis of the national contexts in which they operate.

  8. In this regard, DCI considers ILO Convention No. 182 (1999) on the Worst Forms of Labour a very important tool for action and urges State Parties to ratify and swiftly implement it. However, DCI is also aware that the Convention does not provide an effective list of the worst forms of child labour and is quite rigid in its categories. DCI prefers to refer to most intolerable or hazardous forms of work. Given national differences, forms of intolerable and hazardous work may vary. Some sections also do not agree with including child soldiers and child sexual exploitation in the list of worst forms of child labour, being separate phenomena (and having different causes) from child labour.

  9. For DCI, the rigidity of Convention 182 also stems from the fact that the treaty does not address the problem within a child’s rights perspective. Although Convention 182 states to be recalling the Convention on the Rights of the Child, not much emphasis is placed on the child’s right to development. In particular, DCI feels education is important in relation to child labour in terms of a right and not only as a means to combat child labour. The worst forms of labour are also those that do not allow children to attend school, thus threatening the child’s development.

  10. DCI sees important connections between urgent action to eliminate the worst forms of child labour and the broader aims of eliminating all forms of exploitation and promoting the child’s rights to education, health and leisure. It is desirable that all child labour programs are attentive to both the urgent goals relating to children’s rights to protection and the broader goals relating children’s rights to holistic care and development. Within this framework, DCI sees the importance of taking action on the basis of the principle of the best interest of the child.

  11. DCI's interventions are based on the provisions of the CRC, which promote the idea of sharing responsibilities within society for the complete and healthy development of children. Emphasis is placed on the importance of an active civil society, which strives to eradicate the worst forms of child labour and the protection of all children involved in work activities. In DCI’s holistic approaches, the State, the community, NGOs, grassroots, the business sector, religious institutions, parents and children are stimulated to participate in the debate and in projects.
  12. In agreement with the CRC, Articles 5 and 18, DCI believes the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of children lies with the parents or legal guardians and their basic concern should be the best interest of the child. State Parties are to provide effective assistance to them through the provision of institutions, facilities and services.

  13. State Parties have duties to set standards to guarantee children’s rights to development. Governments have to develop national legislation concerning the work of children and young people, in accordance with international legal instruments such as the CRC, the ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) and its accompanying Recommendation (No. 146) and Convention No. 182 and its accompanying Recommendation (No. 190). DCI supports the CRC, Article 32. State Parties should provide for (a) a minimum age or minimum ages for admission to employment; (b) appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment; and (c) appropriate penalties and sanctions to ensure the effective enforcement of the Article.

  14. As stated in Article 36 of the CRC, the State Party shall protect the child against all (other) forms of exploitation prejudicial to any aspects of the child’s welfare. In particular, DCI stresses State’s intervention in relation to child labour in the area of education as the latter is a major factor in the child’s development and welfare. According to Article 28 of the CRC, the State should guarantee that primary education is made compulsory and free to all through legislation and effective policies. Education is an essential right of the child and is at the same time an important factor towards the elimination of the worst forms of child labour.

  15. DCI also sees children as very important actors and the principle of their right to participate is contained in the CRC. Arts. 12-15 state the children’s rights to form their own views, to be heard and to freedom of expression and thought. These articles have also to be applied to working children. They must be involved in the debate on policies and strategies related to child labour.

    Geneva, February 15 2002


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