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FAQ (frequently asked questions) on Child Labour

DCI has contributed to the debate as a Movement, not only on its own, but also in collaboration with other international organisations. DCI’s position on child labour was developed by the Child Labour Desk through consultation with all Sections and Associate Members of DCI.

The following are the most frequently asked questions when it comes to child labour.

How does DCI consider the issue of child labour?
Why look at child labour from a human and child rights perspective?
What about the worst forms of child labour?
Are all forms of work that children do harmful to the child?
What about the child’s right to work?
What are the main causes of child labour?
What are the consequences of child labour?
What are the responsibilities of the State Parties?

Here is DCI’s response:

How does DCI consider the issue of child labour?

DCI's mandate with regard to child labour is firmly based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Article 32 in particular. According to this article, an activity becomes child labour when the working conditions of the child affect the full exercise of his/her rights that appear in the CRC as access to education; protection of moral, physical, psychological integrity and health.

In addition to this article ensuring children’s protection from economic exploitation, DCI puts the emphasis on the rights of children in general, and specifically stresses the right to education (Arts. 28 and 29), leisure (Art. 31) and protection, thus providing children with the best possible chances for a healthy development.

In terms of a children’s rights perspective starting from the CRC is the first step. The other international instruments on child labour, such as ILO Conventions No. 138 and No. 182 come secondary, even if DCI considers them as important and complementary tools for action. Convention No. 182 reinforces the definition of the worst forms of child labour. If we consider an adolescent, we need to complement Convention No. 138 on Minimum Age for Employment, together with the CRC in order to determine whether the working conditions are suitable for the child’s age.

Why look at child labour from a human and child rights perspective?

DCI’s action uses the human and child rights perspective as a point of reference for intervention because:

  • A child rights and human rights perspective allows a look at how child labour may violate the whole set of rights, i.e. civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. This means that by looking at all these aspects we may assess whether we should consider prohibiting or eliminating certain forms of work.
  • It facilitates a broader and human rights-based definition of child labour and is thus tackling a larger group of working children. This is understandable if we think of addressing child labour from an economic perspective in a globalised world. Free markets, characterised by intensification of trade, have facilitated the use of a cheap and unorganised source of labour, namely child labour. The economic perspective on child labour has highlighted the groups of children exploited in export industries. This approach is yet forgetting the large amount of children working in agriculture, in markets, at traffic lights etc., in conditions that violate their rights.
  • It helps not to see child labour as a problem on its own, but which is connected to several other social, cultural, political and of course economic factors, and thus the need for an approach that considers these different dimensions is necessary.
  • We should not forget that the systems of protection and promotion of economic, social and cultural rights are aiming at better and more extensive conditions of protection. Obviously, this has important implications in making child labour a mainstream issue on the political agenda of the state.
  • It provides a comprehensive aim towards which all intervention efforts must be directed: the human dignity of children.

What about the worst forms of child labour?

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 leading to situations of vulnerability;
  • Exposure to physical and sexual abuse;
  • Forced labour;
  • Working for excessively long working hours;
  • Carrying heavy loads;
  • Working underground and underwater work as in mining and fishing industries;
  • Exposure to pesticides and dangerous tools in agriculture;
  • Urban dangers such as gang-related violence, heavy traffic and pollution.

These are just some examples, as sections may consider additional categories or may not wish to prioritise some of the ones stated above on the basis of the national contexts in which they operate.

DCI sees important connections between urgent action to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, reducing all forms of exploitation, and promoting the child’s rights to education, health and leisure. It is necessary that all child labour programmes take into consideration the urgent goals relating to the child’s right to protection and the child’s right to holistic care and development.

DCI considers ILO Convention No. 182 (1999) on the Worst Forms of Child 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. The rigidity of Convention No.182 stems from the fact that the treaty does not address the problem from a child’s rights perspective. Although Convention No. 182 recalls the CRC, not much emphasis is placed on the child’s right to development. In particular, DCI feels that education is a right and not only a means to combat child labour. The worst forms of child labour are also those that do not allow children to attend school, thus threatening the child’s development.

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. They consider them as crimes, not as forms of work.

Are all forms of work that children do harmful to the child?

DCI considers that not all forms of work are harmful to the child. 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 confusing. Moreover, these sections often agree that defining child work as educational may lead to misconceptions. 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 that the child is performing is harmful. Work that has an educational content, develops professional skills, helps to socialise or integrates 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.

Trying to decide what is considered child labour and child work is not easy. The following principles may help you in differentiating between the two.

Child labour is harmful because:

  • Children are too young to be doing this kind of work;
  • Children spend too many hours working;
  • Children’s access to education is limited;
  • Children have too much responsibility;
  • Children are not sufficiently paid;
  • Children are exposed to a dangerous environment;
  • The work is detrimental to the overall development of the child;
  • Children have no choice but to work.

What about the child’s right 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 with dignity, as long as the activity performed by the child is not violating his/her rights. DCI-Bolivia maintains this approach and sees work as dignifying, as long as it is not an obstacle for the child’s development and his education.

However, for the majority of DCI’s sections, reducing the number of working children is the objective and supporting the right of the child to work is seen as being in contradiction with this goal.

What are the main causes of child labour?

DCI understands child labour to be a multidimensional phenomenon. Poverty is the main cause, but it interacts with numerous other factors as you can see below.

• Poverty
Poverty emerges as the most undeniable reason why children work. Since poor families spend the majority of their income on food, it is clear that the income provided by working children is crucial to their survival. Many poor families may experience varying degrees of violence and in some cases, break apart. As a result, many children may find themselves with huge responsibilities and have no choice but to work. But not all poor families have the same attitude towards child labour. Most parents whose children do not work tend to have fewer children and value education.

This tends to be due to the fact that they are able to access education that is satisfactory and meets the needs of their children. Moreover, the overall poverty of the nation adds to the problem. Often, the State does not possess the adequate infrastructure to meet the needs of the entire population.

• Lack of political will
Most countries have laws against child labour, although the ages at which these apply for various industries vary between countries. The problem is not one of absent legislation but the lack of political will to enforce existing laws. Due to a lack of political will, the rights of the child are not protected in many countries. Political will can be assessed through, for example, budgetary allocation for education, the literacy rate in the country, or provision of appropriate social and employment policies.

• Traditional and cultural values
In some countries, working is considered as the proper and natural occupation for the children of the poor or children of ethnic minorities. In other cases, when parents have little money to spend on education, they choose to educate boy children so girls are not given any schooling. Many families are not aware of the significant drawbacks of child labour for the development of their children.

• Lack of access to education or quality education
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. Many areas simply do not have schools, particularly in rural areas. In some cases, fees are charged and parents cannot afford them. Where free schools are available, the quality may be poor and parents consider the child will survive better if she/he works and learns a skill

• Demand for child labour
The demand for child labour plays a critical role in determining the involvement of children in hazardous work. There are a number of reasons why employers use child labour; it tends to be justified by their lower maintenance cost and their irreplaceable skills (the "nimble fingers" argument). However, these two claims are often unfounded, and there are many other reasons why the demand for child labour is so high. The most important seems to be the fact that children are unaware of their rights, are more obedient and easy to control.

What are the consequences of child labour?

Child labour has irrevocable consequences at every level. Below, we have mentioned what we consider to be the main ones:

• Poverty
Poverty may also be considered a result of child labour as well as a factor of it. Children that are found to be working in exploitative conditions are not provided with much in return. Despite this, many tend to view their employers as benefactors and do not realise the extent to which they are being taken advantage of. Linked to poverty, are consequences that influence the future of the child and reduce his/her chances of becoming an economically successful adult. Financially, many former child labourers (now adults) find themselves heavily in debt. They lack vital skills e.g. an acceptable standard of literacy and/or numeracy, which may hinder their future employment and managing of their own lives. Their health may also have been adversely affected due to the work they completed as a child.

• Physical impairment
Particularly with regards to the worst forms of child labour, children involved in these activities run the risk of being injured or falling ill constantly. Many suffer from malnutrition and their growth is stunted. The risk of death is real for many children who are involved in the most dangerous forms of child labour e.g. in fishing industries. The risk of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS is high amongst children involved in sexual exploitation as they are a particularly vulnerable group. In agriculture, pesticides exposure poses a considerably higher risk to children than adults and has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, neuropathy, behavioural effects and immune system abnormalities.

• Long-term physical impairment
Children who are subjected to excessive physical strain face numerous difficulties. They are stunted both physically and mentally and many lose their reasoning capacity. Many suffer from stress related illnesses.

• Physical and sexual abuse
In some cases, children run the risk of physical or sexual abuse by their employers. With regards to invisible forms of child labour such as domestic child labour, the incidence of physical and sexual abuse is especially high.

• Incomplete access to education
Many children who work do not have the same opportunities with regards to education as those children that do not have to work. Many children who work have attended school sporadically or not at all.

• Hampered development
Most children who work do not have the same opportunities to grow and develop fully as a child when they are working. Time for recreation and rest as well as an acceptable education are basic requirements for a child to mature into a healthy adult.

What are the responsibilities of the State Parties?

State Parties have duties to set standards to guarantee the protection of children’s rights. They have to develop national legislation concerning the work of children and young people, in accordance with the international legal instruments relevant to child labour.

In agreement with the CRC, in particular Articles 5 and 18, DCI believes that 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 interests of the child. State Parties are to provide effective assistance to them through the provision of adequate facilities, services and institutions.

According to Article 32, the government is responsible for providing minimum age for admission to employment, appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment, and provide for appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure effective enforcement.

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.

In practice, however, many motivated countries that have signed international conventions in respect of child labour, simply do not have the necessary structures and mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement.

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