Can the War against Child Labour Be Won? Oslo Conference Says an Emphatic "Yes." (International Conference on Child Labour)

Economic Review, May 1998 | Go to article overview

Can the War against Child Labour Be Won? Oslo Conference Says an Emphatic "Yes." (International Conference on Child Labour)


Oslo, Norway - As a recent international conference got down to forging a new global plan against child labour, ILO Director-General Michel Hansenne sought to clarify matters: Allow me to start with one bold statement," the Director General said in his keynote address to the International Conference on Child Labour. "The war against child labour is being won, and it can be won in all countries in the coming 15 years."

MAIN ELEMENTS OF THE NEW AGENDA

The Agenda for Action calls for:

* Effective elimination of child labour

* Immediate removal of children from the most extreme forms of child labour

* Development of national policies and time-bound programmes of action

* Active involvement of trade unions and employers' organizations

* Ratification of relevant international labour standards and instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973. (No. 138)

* Active participation in the development and adoption of a proposed new ILO Convention on extreme forms of child labour

* Donor support for IPEC and its Statistical Information and Monitoring Programme on Child Labour (SIMPCL).

The conference was the latest in a series of international meetings on child labour which have included the World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, held in Stockholm in 1996, and a Child Labour Conference held in Amsterdam in February 1997. The meeting gathered some 350 high-level representatives, from governments, workers' and employers' organizations, nongovernmental organizations and a number of international organizations and independent experts.

The meetings have been held amid mounting concern for some 250 million children who often work in exploitative and hazardous conditions and face injury, illness and even death. Globally, child labour is most prevalent in the less-developed regions. In absolute terms, Asia has the largest number of child workers (approximately 61% of the world total) as compared with Africa (32%) and Latin America (7%).

Helping the Defenceless, Stopping Abuse

Noting that millions of child labourers were "defenceless" and often had neither the time nor the opportunity for proper schooling, Mr. Hansenne stated "child labour is simply the single most important cause of child exploitation and child abuse in the world today. This must stop." Hansenne proposed a four-point strategy involving a political commitment to the effective and total abolition of child labour; backing this political commitment with a time-bound programme of action against child labour, encompassing prevention, removal and rehabilitation; the adoption of a new international Convention to suppress all extreme forms of child labour; and, a global compact of international cooperation and mutual assistance to allocate more resources to fight world poverty and child labour and to combat the international aspects of the problem, such as the sale and trafficking of children and child sex tourism.

A New "Agenda for Action"

In adopting an "Agenda for Action," the Conference urged a time-bound programme to eliminate child labour and called on nations to give urgent, immediate priority to ending the most intolerable or extreme forms of child labour. Highlighting preventive measures, especially education, as the most cost effective way to combat child labour, the Agenda urges nations to work "progressively" to eliminate child labour among children of school age, especially those activities which interfere with children's development and education. Global "investment in the human capital from early childhood, e.g., education and health" should be stepped up, the Agenda says, as a tool for economic and social development which can help reduce the number of working children.

Noting that one of the goals of the Conference was to identify national and international strategies for eliminating child labour generally, with a special emphasis on the role of development cooperation, the Agenda also urges that existing bilateral and multilateral development cooperation programmes be examined to assess their effects on child labour, and "where appropriate in cooperation with the developing countries concerned, adjusting the programmes to ensure better use of resources and a greater impact". …

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