Academic journal article Australian International Law Journal

Ending Abusive and Exploitative Child Labour through International Law and Practical Action

Academic journal article Australian International Law Journal

Ending Abusive and Exploitative Child Labour through International Law and Practical Action

Article excerpt

Abstract

Twenty years ago, the establishment of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provided hope that child labour would soon become a problem of the past. However, abusive and exploitative child labor is still a prevalent problem today, affecting up to 500 million children. Although the symbolic value of international law has facilitated real progress on the issue, the lack of enforceability of these instruments has weakened their efficacy. Approaches that regulate the issue of child labour specifically, whilst neglecting the contextual causes, can yield only limited results. Ultimately, international legal instruments must be met by practical action if the problem of child labour exploitation is to be solved.

Introduction

The establishment of the Convention on the Rights of the Child ('CRC') (1) in 1989 provided hope that child labour would soon be a problem of the past. However, twenty years on, child labour is still a concern, with up to 500 million children globally estimated to be engaged in employment, (2) many receiving appalling treatment in dangerous conditions, and who may not receive an education. (3) Whilst child labour can occur in all area, its concentration can be inextricably linked with poverty and disadvantage. (4)

Various international conventions have been established to address the economic exploitaion of children. (5) unfortunately, many have proven largely symbolic in nature, and lacking in substantive pragmatic enforceability. (6) Whilst international conventions opposing child labour should be commended as steps towards a solution, states should be encouraged to take practical steps to meet the objectives enshrined in these agreements.

This article will outline the international conventions that address child labour, before examining the nature, causes and impacts of the child labour problem. It will subsequently derail the weaknesses that undermine the conventions, and conclude by outlining proposals for how the child labour problem could be further addressed.

1. International Law on Child Labour

Progressively over the late 20th Century the international community recognised the need to protect children from economic exploitation. (7) A number of key international conventions now formally prohibit abusive and exploitative child labour.

A. Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention, which is clearest in its prohibition on child labour exploitation, is the CRC. (8) Article 32 of the CRC states:

  States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from
  economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to
  be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be
  harmful to be child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or
  social development. (9)

The article proceeds to oblige member states to take measures to implement child protections, including regulating working conditions, hours of work, providing a minimum age for entering employment, and imposing penalties for breaching these rules. (10)

What differentiates the CRC from other conventions is that it utilises the rhetoric of 'rights' rather than presenting; children as the property of their parents or objects of charity. (11) This framework of 'rights' is both a strength and shortcoming of the CRC's enforceability, as discussed later.

The CRC is the most widely ratified international convention, having been signed by all but two states. (12) Theoretically, the CRC is therefore (at least symbolically) almost universally legally binding in its protection of children's rights. (13)

B. UN International Bill on Human Rights

The conventions encompassed in the UN International Bill on Human Rights, (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (14) The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ('ICESCR'), (15) and The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ('ICCPR')) (16) also include a number of provisions relevant to the issue of child labour. …

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