Phased and multi-sectoral strategy
While there is a growing consensus on the goal of the total elimination of child labour, and many countries are taking steps in this direction, changes do not come about easily or quickly because child labour problems are engrained in the socio-cultural and economic structure of society. A shift of attitudes is needed among those directly concerned with the problem - children, parents and employers - and society as a whole. Policy reforms, and changes in programmes and institutional structures in key areas such as legislation, education, labour market policies, social security, health, welfare and social development are essential.
Working towards a change in societal attitudes to combat child labour and policy reform should take place simultaneously because the two are intricately related. Extensive awareness-raising and social mobilization lead to changes in attitudes about child labour, which in turn create public demand for the necessary changes in policy.
Among the types of reform, education is universally recognized as a key solution to the elimination of child labour. Improvements in educational systems are not enough, however, because the worst child labour abuses take place among the children of the poorest adults, migrants, lower classes and castes, single-headed households, indigenous people, in sum, among the most vulnerable socio-economic groups in society. These population groups can seldom afford education for their children, even if it were to be more available, relevant and less costly. Their children are sent to work because their contribution and earnings are essential for family survival. Children will continue to be put to work as long as their parents are not earning enough to take care of the family's basic needs. Therefore, interventions in education need to be accompanied by interventions in the labour market and by social protection measures, such as family support services, if programmes are to be effective and successful.
Interventions should aim at empowering the poor and abolishing social discrimination. They can include adequate child labour legislation; a strong and efficient labour inspectorate; an independent and competent judicial system; the provision of incentives to employers to refrain from utilizing child labour; assistance to workers' organizations; action by local councils and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to fight for the replacement of child workers by adult workers, and to assume a child-watch role in workplaces and communities; the provision of income-earning opportunities to the poor through employment creation and poverty alleviation schemes; small enterprise development; minimum wage systems; credit systems and social safety nets for the most needy. These measures should address both the need for income for adults and the need for schooling for children at the design and implementation stages, so that they do not inadvertently encourage the employment of children along with or instead of adults.
It is therefore necessary to mainstream the needs of working children within broader social and economic development policies that affect children and families. It is often assumed that their needs will be addressed automatically where child or family-focused policies and programmes exist; or that where economic policies are designed to improve the economic conditions in a country, there will be a trickle-down effect that improves the lives of child labourers. But these assumptions have proved invalid in most instances. In the short term, the living conditions of child labourers may actually deteriorate when isolated interventions are implemented, such as premature or arbitrary withdrawal of children from dangerous work without appropriate support systems in place. In the long term the damage to their development is irreversible, and the vicious cycle of poverty will continue from one generation to the next. Thus, a conscious and systematic effort must be made to draw attention to their needs, and to develop appropriate and supportive policies and programmes that benefit them both in the short and the longer term.
Another important pointer in developing responses and approaches to child labour is that they should never be formulated in isolation without regard for other related policies. In certain countries, the objective of eliminating child labour in hazardous work has been included in a larger policy framework, for example, a National Plan of Action for Children. In other countries, considering the close links of the problem with education, poverty and unemployment, child labour has been included as an important element in national development plans (e.g. Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand).
Experience has shown that a phased and multi-sectoral strategy is needed, consisting of the following steps:
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