Although child labour has long existed and is believed to be increasing and becoming more harmful, the actual level, nature, causes and consequences of the practice have not been fully determined in the past. The main reason for the dearth of data on child labour has been the absence of an appropriate survey methodology to probe into the work of children which, for the most part, is a hidden or invisible phenomenon. In view of the absence of adequate data, little is known about many important aspects of child labour at both the national and global levels. There is, however, a wide variety of guesstimates as to the number of working children under 15 years of age, ranging from 200 to 400 million worldwide. Even if such estimates were to be regarded as realistic, mere global totals do not provide insight into the various forms of the practice and the problems inherent therein. The ILO's Bureau of Statistics now estimates that, in developing countries alone, there are at least 120 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 who are fully at work. If those for whom work is a secondary activity are included, the total working children in this age group is at least twice as many (or more than 250 million).
For several reasons, a paucity of data on child labour has in recent times contributed to an increasingly intensive and sometimes emotional debate on the subject in which some tend to downplay the magnitude of the problem, while others exaggerate it. Lack of reliable data obscures the problem and can be counter productive when it comes to setting national priorities for urgent action. Following experimental work in the early 1990s, the ILO has developed statistical survey methodologies to assist countries in collecting and improving their information base on child labour.
So far child labour surveys based on recently developed methodologies have been carried out nationally or in selected areas of 19 countries or territories. These include Bangladesh, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Georgia, Ghana (selected areas), Indonesia (selected areas), India (one state), Kenya, Namibia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and the West Bank and Gaza. New child labour surveys are either under way or in the process of starting, or are being planned, in the following countries: Angola, Belize, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia (second round), Colombia, Costa Rica (second round), Cote d'Ivoire, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana (second round), Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia (second round), Jamaica, Madagascar, Mali, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal (second round), Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan (second round), Panama, Peru, the Philippines (second round), Romania, Russian Federation, United Republic of Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey (second round), Uganda, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Child labour is a concern not only in the Asian, African, Latin American and Caribbean regions, but also in countries in transition and in developed nations. The ILO is already collaborating with Eastern European countries such as Georgia, Romania and Ukraine in conducting such surveys, to be followed by other countries including Armenia, the Russian Federation and, in the Baltic States, Lithuania. In Western Europe, Portugal has already carried out a household-based survey in close collaboration with the ILO, and the same collaboration is expected with Italy and Spain, which are preparing to investigate the phenomenon of child labour in their respective countries. Child labour surveys will be carried out as far as possible in all IPEC participating countries to optimize the complementary effects of IPEC and the Statistical Information and Monitoring Programme on Child Labour (SIMPOC) - see below.
Given the effectiveness and popularity of the newly developed survey methodologies for quantifying child labour in all its different facets, an externally funded programme (SIMPOC) was formulated and launched at the beginning of 1998. SIMPOC, an interdepartmental programme between the ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) and the ILO's Bureau of Statistics, is designed for a five-year period with the major aim of assisting individual countries in generating comprehensive quantitative and qualitative statistical data on child labour at the national level that is comparable among countries, subregions or regions. SIMPOC is also aimed at capacity building of national statistical offices and ministries of labour for the production and use of such data on a regular basis in the future. For this purpose, under the SIMPOC programme, the staff of IPEC and SIMPOC are to be trained to design and carry out child labour surveys and analyse the data collected. The surveys are expected to become an integral part of the regular national statistical programmes, so that statistical information on child labour can be produced and disseminated at regular intervals. A large majority of the countries listed above have undertaken the surveys under the auspices of SIMPOC.
Through SIMPOC, comprehensive child labour information systems consisting of both quantitative and qualitative data will also be developed at national, international and regional levels with a computer programme that facilitates updating the database as new information becomes available. Such a database will provide policy and decision makers with more detailed and better-quality information for the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes. The dissemination of this data, through the publication of a regular trend report, is planned under SIMPOC - which will contribute considerably to raising public awareness and enhancing the understanding of the problem of child labour.
This chapter aims to assist countries develop or improve survey programmes on child labour by providing technical and practical guidelines to researchers on designing and conducting the surveys; it also offer insights about obtaining information from children. An appendix lists detailed variables in different types of child labour surveys.
More detailed methodological and related technical guidelines are being prepared for publication under the title: Surveys of child labour and activities of children: An ILO manual on concepts, methods and procedures.
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