BANGKOK (ILO News) – "The worst first." That, in a nutshell, is how the world’s governments, employers’ organizations and trade unions decided to come to terms with the reality of child labour by unanimously adopting in June of last year the International Labour Organization’s Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182).
Because viable economic and social alternatives to child labour cannot be put in place overnight, experts accept that the battle against most forms of child labour will have to be waged over time.
But the "worst" forms of child labour are so intolerable that world leaders want them halted everywhere, without delay and whatever the cost.
The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, which enters into force on Sunday, 19 November*, has already garnered a record number of ratifications (from over a quarter of the Organization’s 175 member States). In Asia and the Pacific, the three States that have ratified so far – Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea – are expected to be joined by several more very soon, Cambodia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand among them.
The ILO Convention defines the worst forms of child labour as:
- all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including the recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;
- the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution or pornography;
- the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in relevant international treaties;
- work which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.
Perhaps easiest to spot among the worst forms of child labour in Thailand is the use of girls and boys for prostitution and pornography. Some 17 per cent of so-called "sex workers", according to estimates from the Ministry of Public Health, are below the age of 18, and one in five of them began working between the ages of 13 and 15.
Much less visible are domestic workers, many of them trafficked across borders into homes where they work long hours for negligible – if any – wages. Children are also being ensnared into the drugs trade in numbers which are similarly hard to tally.
Beggar gangs, whose members may be trafficked from neighbouring countries and find themselves without legal status and unable to speak the national language, are appearing on the streets of major cities.
In agriculture, the sector employing the greatest numbers of children, hazardous pesticides and other chemicals menace child workers’ health.
In close collaboration with national and local partners in Thailand, the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) is working to provide educational services and socio-economic alternatives to more than 2,500 working children and children at risk of trafficking and prostitution. Some 15,000 high-risk girls are expected to benefit from ILO training and income-substitution programmes that target family members.
The hallmark of the ILO’s approach is direct community involvement, which seeks to raise people’s awareness of the problem and come up with ways to avert it. Hundreds of Thai school teachers, employers, trade-union members, police officers and officials of the national and provincial governments are getting training in how to stave off the threat of child labour and succour its victims.
Over the past few years Thailand’s Parliament has enacted several key pieces of legislation to extend protection for children, such as the 1996 Prostitution Prevention and Suppression Act, the 1997 Prevention and Suppression of Trafficking in Women and Children, the 1998 Labour Protection Act (which put up the minimum age for entry into employment from 13 to 15) and the 1999 Education Act (which lengthened the period of compulsory education from six to nine years).
Thailand’s expected ratification of Convention 182 will put a high priority on the elimination of the worst forms of child labour since it requires ratifying States "to take immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency".
A public celebration of the Convention’s entry into force will take place on Sunday 19 November at the Santikham Centre of the Foundation for Child Development (FCD). Starting at 8.30 am children will parade from nearby Imperial World to the Centre, where they will be greeted (at 9.45) by representatives from the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, the Employers’ Confederation of Thailand, (ECOT) the National Congress of Thai Labour (NCTL) and the ILO. From 10.30 on, children will enjoy a range of special activities, including songs and a play specially produced by children, many of them working children or former working children. Lunch will be provided from 12.00 to 13.00 and activities should run well into the afternoon. For further information, please contact K. Maneewan at (662) 288.2242 or by email at
The ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) was launched in 1992 to help states combat child labour through action programmes, research, policy development and advocacy. From a core of less than 10 countries IPEC has grown into a global alliance now operating in 74 countries.
*Exactly twelve months after receiving its second ratification.