CHIANG MAI (ILO News) – Delegates from 16 countries1 in Asia attending a tripartite ILO meeting in Chiangmai today agreed on a breakthrough framework for follow up action on the issue of child domestic labour.
Representatives from government, employer and worker groups attending the ILO-Japan-Korea Asian Meeting on Action to Combat Domestic Child Labour held in-depth discussions over three days, which led to agreement on several fronts. The meeting was generously sponsored by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the Government of Japan, and the Ministry of Labour, Government of Korea.
On the issue of age, participants agreed that a general minimum age for employment should be set at 15 and no child younger than this should be employed in domestic work, although it was recognized that some countries’ national laws may apply a lower age, between 12-14. It was also agreed that children aged 15 to 17 employed under hazardous conditions are considered child labourers. Domestic work by those younger than 17 falling under conditions set in ILO Convention No 182 is considered to be within the Worst Forms of Child Labour.
Participants proposed several strategies and interventions aimed at combatting the widespread problem of child domestic labour.
They called for the establishment of guidelines for employment of child domestic workers, and called for recognition of the right to be paid reasonable wages. Combatting child domestic labour would mean sensitizing parents, employers and the public to the issue, they said. Delegates agreed that a local ‘community watch’ system be used as a mechanism to monitor child domestic workers.
In terms of the children employed as domestic workers, delegates called for free compulsory education, while citing the social responsibility of employers to ensure access to education. They also called for the provision of free non-formal education, vocational training, and evening and weekend schools. They called for a system of registration with local authorities that does not compromise the privacy of the home, as well as the establishment of rescue, crisis and care centres.
Poverty is widely recognized as one of the main reasons children are forced into domestic work. Delegates therefore called for provision of income generation and micro-credit facilities for parents, as well as job promotion programmes.
They also suggested that family planning and welfare be better promoted.
Delegates called for greater enforcement of existing applicable laws, and for legislation to be better publicized.
Regarding working conditions, delegates agreed that child domestic workers frequently carried out strenuous tasks, were unpaid or paid a minimal amount, and got little or no time off. They work under dangerous circumstances, are exposed to risk, are denied adequate food, and are deprived of contact with their families. Child domestic workers have limited or no access to education, medical care, recreation or adequate living conditions. Due to the informal nature of the work, child domestic workers often have no defined terms of employment, are victims of debt bondage, and face physical, emotional, mental and sexual abuse.
The framework for follow-up action allows participants, in tandem with NGOs and supporting bodies to implement measures at a country level.
During his opening remarks, ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Mr Yasuyuki Nodera, identified one of the major challenges when dealing with the issue of child domestic labour.
"The fact that child domestic workers are isolated, or ‘invisible’, means that they are difficult to reach, while this means it is also difficult to make contact with their employers."
Delegates accepted that this means that the magnitude of the problem is far greater than current data suggests.
Mr Gap Rea Ha, Director-General for International Cooperation, Ministry of Labour, Government of the Republic of Korea, urged governments to prioritize the elimination of child labour as ‘most urgent’ on policy agendas. He highlighted education as a key factor in Korea’s success in eradicating child labour.
"In addition to government commitment, education and training should be used as a frontline weapon in the battle against child labour. While it is true that poverty is the main cause of child labour, it is also true that child labour itself creates a vicious cycle of poverty."
"Although it is not easy to allocate limited resources to education in the short-term, it will pay great dividends in the long-term," he added.
While Asia faces huge challenges with regard to this issue, studies have shown that child domestic labour is a worldwide problem, affecting rich and poor countries alike.
Mr Shinichi Hasegawa, Assistant Minister for International Affairs, Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare, Government of Japan, highlighted the need for the international community to play its part. "I am convinced that elimination of the worst
forms of child labour is not only the responsibility of the countries that are directly concerned, but of the global community as a whole."
According to the Global Report on Child Labour 2002, an estimated 211 million children world-wide aged 5-14 are engaged in some form of economic activity, with 186 million engaged in labour to be abolished (including in its worst forms). The report says 127.3 million economically active children, representing 60 per cent of this group, are located in the Asia and Pacific region.
While ILO member States in Asia share many common problems in this area, country papers presented at the meeting showed that in many cases countries face their own individual challenges in combating child domestic labour. While a good deal of legislation is already in place, enforcement has not proved to be satisfactory.
1Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Lao PDR, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam will be participating in the meeting.