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close this bookAction Against Child Labour (ILO; 2000; 356 pages)
View the documentPreface
Open this folder and view contents1. National policies and programmes
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
close this folder5. Strategies to address child slavery
Open this folder and view contents5.1 THE PROBLEM OF CHILD SLAVERY
View the documentInternational Labour Organization
View the documentUnited Nations
Open this folder and view contents5.3 NATIONAL LEGISLATION AND ENFORCEMENT
Open this folder and view contents5.4 ACTION AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL
View the documentBibliography on 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

International Labour Organization

International labour standards

One of the most widely ratified ILO Conventions is the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), which requires ratifying States to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour. It defines the term as "work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily" - other than in certain excepted circumstances, for example, the performance of military service, and emergencies such as wars, fires, earthquakes and so on. It imposes an obligation on the ratifying State to punish the exaction of forced or compulsory labour as a penal offence and to ensure that penalties are strictly enforced.

Convention No. 29 is an important instrument to promote government action in countries where child bondage exists. Since it applies to everyone, whatever age, it protects children from forced or compulsory labour and is applicable to children in bondage and their exploitation in prostitution and pornography. Indeed, the Committee of Experts and the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards have been dealing extensively with the problem of the forced or compulsory labour of children in relation to the application of the Convention by several member States. The Committee of Experts has stated on several occasions that the forced labour exploitation of children is one of the worst forms of forced labour, which must be fought energetically and punished severely.

Box 5.8. Reports to the ILO Committee of Experts

The annual reports submitted by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations to the International Labour Conference (ILC) contain information on those countries which have ratified ILO Convention No. 29 on forced labour and illustrate the range and diversity of the dimensions of bonded child labour that the Committee addresses. Excerpts are provided below, but the entire reports should be consulted for the complete context of the Committee's discussion and comments of the governments concerned.


"The Committee notes that in its report of 1995 on rural conflicts in 1994, the Pastoral Commission on Land (PCL) indicates that the figures relating to cases of slave labour in 1994 show a worsening situation. The number of victims rose from 19,940 in 1993 to 25,193 in 1994 which can be attributed to the cases of slave labour observed in various charcoal-producing plants in the region of Montes Claros in Minas Gerais, which involved 10,000 workers, and six municipalities of Mato Grosso do Sul, including 8,000 adults and 2,000 minors. The case of minors engaged in heavy labour in the countryside was, according to the PCL, the most significant and alarming in 1994" (Report, 1996, p. 74)


"In its previous comments the Committee referred to allegations brought before the United Nations Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities that children were in bondage in agriculture, brick kilns, stone quarries, carpet weaving, handlooms, matches and fireworks, glass bangles, diamond cutting and polishing; that child bondage and forced labour were connected with trafficking, kidnapping, repression, absence of freedom of movement, beating, sexual abuse, starvation, abnormal working hours and hazardous working conditions. The Committee noted the Government's indication that for the purpose of identification and rehabilitation by the machinery set up for this purpose no distinction is made between bonded child labour and bonded adult labour.

Given however the particular vulnerability of children and their specific needs, the Committee asked for information on any specific measures taken for identification, release and rehabilitation." (Report, 1996, pp. 103-104)


"The Committee recalls the observation on the application of the Convention made by the All Pakistan Federation of United Trade Unions in a communication dated 31 December 1993 (which was transmitted to the Government for comments and also remained without reply) that the feudals of the country had a strong hold over the administrative machinery, which was always used for the protection of the bonded labour system, and whenever any effort was made to eliminate this system, it was strongly resisted. The Committee further notes that in its communication of June 1996, the NZCTU (New Zealand Council of Trade Unions) had stressed the Workers' members' concern at the Conference Committee in June 1996 that the Government was putting more energy into attacking those, such as the BLLF (Bonded Labour Liberation Front), who seek to free bonded labourers, than into implementing the laws which purport to ban such labour.... It hopes that the Government will supply detailed observations on the allegations made, as well as indications on any action taken or envisaged..." (Report, 1997, p.92)


"In its previous comments the Committee referred to certain statistical data concerning the number of children exploited through prostitution (estimates from 86,000 to 800,000). The Committee notes the Government's indication to the Conference Committee that the latest estimates amount to some 20,000 to 30,000 children in prostitution. The Committee recalls that the Ministry of Health, Division of Venereal Diseases Control, reported in 1990 that child prostitutes numbered 86,000 and that data from the Police Department showed that around 160,000 prostitutes would be under 16. Given the number of children trafficked from the neighbouring countries, it is unlikely that these figures would have decreased since 1990. The Committee considers that swift and severe action is required to rescue these children trapped in prostitution." (Report, 1996, pp. 114-115)

Under the ILO's Constitution, ratifying Members must report to the ILO on measures taken to implement the Convention. Such information is often supplemented by reports from ILO constituents, which might forward reports from NGOs or others concerned. Moreover, reports to the United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery are also considered by the Committee of Experts.

The new Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), and its accompanying Recommendation (No. 190), provide additional and powerful weapons for the elimination of all forms of child slavery. Adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1999, the Convention applies to all children under the age of 18 and obliges member States to act immediately against the worst forms of child labour, which include slavery and practices similar to slavery - such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom - forced or compulsory labour - including forced recruitment for armed conflicts - and the use of children in prostitution, pornography and illicit activities, in particular the production and trafficking of drugs. The Convention also requires adequate penalties and encourages member States to assist one another through international cooperation or assistance to combat the worst forms of child labour.

Ratifying States are required to adopt programmes of action to eliminate the worst forms of child labour. These programmes are to include specific measures to prevent children from being exploited in forced labour and to rehabilitate and integrate them once they are removed from such exploitation. Thus, in addition to providing for a clear legal prohibition of child slavery, the new Convention is oriented towards immediate and effective action to assist the children concerned.

In 1998 the International Labour Conference adopted the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which reaffirms the commitment of the ILO's Member States to promote fundamental labour rights, whether or not they have ratified the relevant Conventions. The elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour and the abolition of child labour figure prominently among these rights.

International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC)

Consistent with the new Convention and the Declaration, IPEC gives top priority to action which will bring an end to the worst forms of child labour, such as slavery and similar practices, the exploitation of children in prostitution, pornography and for illicit purposes. In addition, IPEC gives special attention to children who are particularly vulnerable, those who are very young and girls. Examples of IPEC-supported action are given in section 5.4 on action at national level and strategies for action against child bondage, and in section 5.5 on trafficking of children and commercial sexual exploitation.

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