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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
Open this folder and view contents5.2 INTERNATIONAL ACTION AGAINST CHILD SLAVERY
Open this folder and view contents5.3 NATIONAL LEGISLATION AND ENFORCEMENT
close this folder5.4 ACTION AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL
View the documentPreventing child slavery
View the documentAction against slave owners
View the documentTargeting children in bondage
View the documentIntegrated action to address child slavery
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

Targeting children in bondage

The experience of direct action programmes concerning children in bondage, although limited, clearly presents two major lessons: firstly, without action directed towards society in general and slave owners in particular, activities targeting bonded children will have limited results and will not alone suppress the practice of bondage; secondly, support programmes must be organized taking into account that the child is in slavery and not simply at work under harsh conditions.

Direct action with bonded children involves three stages: identification, release and rehabilitation.


Identification means not only physically discovering a child in slavery-type situations, but having the child recognized as such. Slave owners often deny that a state of slavery exists. Possible counter-actions include:

• launching periodic appeals to the population to denounce known cases of slavery;

• having labour inspectors, police and social workers systematically verify whether children at work in slavery-prone areas are in bondage;

• informing and sensitizing parents so that they will testify about the slavery of their children; and

• setting up procedures permitting children to express themselves on their situation.


The release of children is not an easy operation. Firstly, the children must be physically taken out of their slave environment. This requires the parents, the child or the workmates to overcome physical barriers and thwart the surveillance of the guards in order to escape, which is often difficult. Outside intervention is therefore usually necessary but cannot be organized by an individual who has no right of entry to private property. Specific solutions could include the creation of special police units and the granting of a legally recognized intervention power to certain special authorities.

Secondly, one must ensure that a child who has been freed from bondage is not recaptured by the employer. A very long period of time may elapse before the child is able to be returned to its parents. Often the child is distraught and traumatized by violence. The slave owners may take advantage of this to regain control of the child. Temporary reception centres must be set up. Because speed of operation is a key factor, emergency procedures must be elaborated enabling the identification and the release of the child to be effected simultaneously.

Thirdly, there is no real liberation until the debt which binds the child to the employer has been officially nullified. Such a decision in law assumes the participation of the two parties. As the parents of the child are often paralysed by fear of the employer and by lack of awareness of their rights, free legal aid should be put at their disposal.


Only by rehabilitation is the process of liberation completed. Rehabilitation means supporting the return of the child to a community. It must respond to two fundamental needs of the liberated child. Firstly, the child must be guaranteed the material needs for survival. It goes without saying that if the economic situation of the family remains unchanged and if the causes which had provoked the bondage persist, the provision of a temporary allowance, for example, would have little effect. Secondly, specialized treatment is needed to repair the psychological damage suffered by the child and to assist the child's reintegration in society.

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