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close this bookAction Against Child Labour (ILO; 2000; 356 pages)
View the documentPreface
close this folder1. National policies and programmes
View the documentINTRODUCTION
Open this folder and view contents1.1 STRATEGIC ACTION AGAINST CHILD LABOUR
View the documentEspecially vulnerable groups
View the documentMain policy and programme directions
View the documentDirect action and capacity building
View the documentAppendix 1.1 Terms of reference for a comprehensive report on child labour
View the documentAppendix 1.2 Ideas for group work in national planning workshops on child labour
View the documentAppendix 1.3 Example of a national plan of action on child labour, Cambodia, 1997
View the documentAppendix 1.4 Pointers to project design
Open this folder and view contents2. Towards improved legislation
Open this folder and view contents3. Improving the knowledge base on child labour
Open this folder and view contents4. Alternatives to child labour
Open this folder and view contents5. Strategies to address child slavery
Open this folder and view contents6. Strategies for employers and their organizations
Open this folder and view contents7. Trade unions against child labour
Open this folder and view contents8. Awareness-raising
Open this folder and view contents9. Action by community groups and NGOs
Open this folder and view contents10. Resources on child labour
View the documentOther ILO publications
View the documentBack Cover

Main policy and programme directions

Effective policies on child labour go beyond mere statements. A strong declaration - in which child labour is denounced and a firm commitment made to address the problem - creates the facilitating policy environment for the implementation of concrete programmes. For a concrete example of a recently formulated national programme of action, see Appendix 1.3.

Major programme areas

In general, there are four major programme areas that can be distinguished:

1. Finding out about child labour

The ILO Bureau of Statistics has developed a statistical survey methodology to assist countries in improving their knowledge base on child labour (see Chapter 3). Statistical, sample-based surveys can be very useful in providing a broad picture of the situation in the country, and in highlighting provincial or sectoral variations and gender differences in the child labour situation of a given country. More in-depth studies are useful to identify children in dangerous, exploitative and often clandestine work. Assistance has also been provided for research on specific groups of problems, for example, to the international NGO, Anti-Slavery International, concerning child domestic workers, a group of children especially difficult to reach.1

1Anti-Slavery International (ASI): Child domestic workers, A handbook for research and action. (London, 1997).

2. Awareness-raising and social mobilization

The overall objective of awareness-raising is a broad social movement against child labour. Indifference towards the suffering of working children needs to change. With such efforts, countries are beginning to see putting an end to child labour not simply as a problem but a solution to poverty and underdevelopment. The importance of awareness-raising as a vital component of any national programme on child labour is now widely recognized (see Chapter 8).

Campaigns against child labour using traditional media (television, newspapers, etc.) can be very useful in reaching the urban upper and middle class and policy-makers, but other innovative or traditional communication channels are also effective to reach children, parents, employers and communities directly involved. Teachers in particular can play key roles, as has been demonstrated in many countries. In others, religious leaders have been instrumental in changing attitudes and opinions on child labour. One of the spin-offs of awareness-raising campaigns, at the national and international levels, is that they have mobilized new partners. Children and their families are, of course, the first line of defence, and fostering greater awareness of the issues among them, as well as better organization and increased participation in efforts to address the problem, are crucial.

3. Protective legislation

Although insufficient on its own, legislation remains a powerful instrument for governments to combat child labour. Child labour legislation can serve as a deterrent when the penalties for offenders are severe and enforcement rigorous. Although the situation has improved in recent years, there are still many countries where penalties are too mild and ineffective considering the gravity of the crimes involved, and few offenders have been convicted under the laws.

From the perspective of prevention there are a number of simple cost-effective measures that can go a long way. Children, parents, communities and even small-scale employers are not always aware of the relevant laws and regulations. Simple, targeted campaigns at the community level, where parents and children are made aware of their legal rights, can have a substantial impact. The translation of relevant Acts and regulations into local languages or dialects has proved useful. Labour inspectors can also play an important role by providing advice and guidance to employers on how to comply with the law.

Chapter 2 deals in detail with national legislation on child labour.

4. Prevention and removal of children from work and provision of alternatives to families

Children at risk of being engaged in child labour need to be prevented from entering work and children already working under exploitative and hazardous conditions need to be withdrawn from work. Both groups need to be provided with viable alternatives (see Chapter 4, section 4.3). As regards removal programmes, care needs to be taken, however, that such measures do not drive the children into clandestine jobs or result in their taking up other demeaning or dangerous work. Prevention and removal programmes usually consist of three interrelated components:

• providing education and training to children combined with rehabilitation services if they are traumatized because of the work situation;

• developing integrated programmes for disadvantaged population groups who resort to or are prone to utilizing child labour, combining education for children with functional literacy training and education, income-earning opportunities and social safety nets for their families; and

• providing information and establishing a workplace or community child-watch or monitoring system to ensure that other children do not enter the vacated jobs.

Education and training

Children at school are less likely to be in full-time employment. On the other hand, children with no access to education have little alternative but to enter the labour market and often perform work that is dangerous and exploitative. Education, as well as skills training, clearly helps prevent and reduce child labour as:

• children with basic education and skills have better chances in the labour market; they are aware of their rights and are less likely to accept hazardous work and exploitative working conditions; and

• educational opportunities could wean working children away from hazardous and exploitative work, and help them find better alternatives.

Countries that are serious about eliminating child labour make major efforts to provide quality education that is relevant, accessible and free for all children. However, ILO experience shows that even in countries where substantial progress has been made and average school enrolment ratios are high, there are still children from poor population groups who do not benefit from this progress. This suggests that, apart from general improvements in the education system, special measures are often necessary to increase the access to education for children who are especially vulnerable, such as children at risk of working who are not able to continue formal education and training, so that they do not re-enter the labour market as unskilled workers. The younger children may require skills that are useful in improving the quality of life and can be developed further, while the older children generally require vocational counselling and practical training that can lead to income generation either through wage labour or self-employment in a broad array of employable skills.


Children who stop working often need assistance in various areas. Some children have been hurt because they were bonded, have been prostituted, or are living and working on the streets without their families or any stable social environment. They might, for example, be suffering from emotional and psychological trauma, occupational diseases, sexually transmitted diseases or malnutrition, or they may be completely illiterate. They therefore require special assistance from social workers, paediatricians and psychologists, and they need lawyers who can give intensive follow-up, counselling and often legal aid. Although the cost of rehabilitation programmes is very high - and many countries lack the infrastructure - they are vital if former child workers are to be satisfactorily reintegrated into society and the school system.

Integrated programmes for children and parents

The impact of programmes which may not specifically address children but bear on the causes of poverty and inequality can have a significant impact on the incidence and extent of child labour. In general, efforts made by governments to promote economic growth and, even more importantly, growth that focuses on the most disadvantaged population groups by facilitating their access to productive and adequately paid employment, and/or by affording a minimum of social protection, reduce the economic need for child labour.

As stated earlier, national programmes on child labour should be directly linked to specific programmes on poverty alleviation and other socio-economic development. Surprisingly, many programmes with tremendous potential for reducing child labour have been implemented without such links, thus diminishing their potential impact. Much more could be achieved if the concern to tackle child labour, in particular its more extreme forms, had been built in from the start. Therefore, child labour concerns need to be built into major development efforts in the field of poverty alleviation, health, nutrition, welfare and social protection. Much can also be achieved by ensuring that these development efforts target those local communities and groups in society which rely heavily on child labour for survival.

Chapter 4 covers strategies for education, training and rehabilitation for child workers and their families.

Box 1.6. Poverty alleviation and child labour in Indonesia

In December 1993, the Government of Indonesia launched a nationwide poverty alleviation programme in the so-called backward villages. The programme covered close to 30 villages and each of them received working capital of about US$25,000 as a revolving fund to generate productive economic activities. It was assumed that since poverty was the greatest force driving children into employment for their own survival, all measures to alleviate poverty would solve also the problem of child labour. The case was, however, not that straightforward. A study undertaken by IPEC showed that instead of withdrawing children from work, the programme in some cases led to their withdrawal from school into all sorts of activities to support enterprises developed by the families. A programme component was subsequently developed to integrate child labour concerns into the poverty-alleviation programme. Motivators that have been appointed to facilitate the implementation of the programme are being trained on child labour issues. They identify working children of families participating in the programme that qualify for various governmental and non-governmental educational support schemes or mobilize local resources for that purpose.

Workplace and community monitoring system

When children are withdrawn from work, systematic efforts need to be made to ensure that workplaces and communities remain child labour free. This means first of all that awareness-raising activities should not be limited to the children and parents, but extended to all groups involved: employers, managers and adult workers in workplaces, community leaders and service providers. In a second stage, monitoring mechanisms need to be set up to ensure that the children withdrawn from work remain and complete school and that new children do not enter work. This can be done by establishing a monitoring system in the schools or educational centres, in the workplaces and in the communities where children live (see section 4.4).

Box 1.7. Workplace monitoring

The commitment to eliminate child labour in a few selected industries can be a useful starting point to address child labour practice in other sectors. Successful measures in tackling child labour in certain occupations can have a multiplier effect that will benefit children working in other dangerous work. This is because as soon as population groups - and eventually whole societies - start focusing on the dangers of premature work of children in one sector or geographical area, broad discussion of the acceptability and unacceptability of different forms of child labour in general will follow.

IPEC has devised and implemented comprehensive and effective monitoring and verification systems in a number of countries to ensure that factories and their subcontractors do not employ children under the age of 14. Child labour monitors under the Programme inspect the factories regularly through surprise visits. IPEC's core strategy has proved valid and valuable in workplace monitoring programmes both in the formal sector (for example, the garment industry in Bangladesh) and in the rural informal sector (for example, the football industry in Sialkot, Pakistan).

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