Opening speech at the Conference on the Application of Child Labour Conventions

By Ms Ann Herbert, Director, ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia

Statement | Beijing, China | 06 September 2012
Respected Vice Minister Qiu Xiaoping,
Dear participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning! It’s a pleasure for me to be here with you today, along with my colleagues from the ILO headquarters in Geneva and the Decent Work Technical Advisory Team in Bangkok to participate in the High-Level Meeting on the Application of Child Labour Conventions ratified by China. The fact that China takes the initiative to hold this meeting at such a high level and with so many important participants clearly demonstrates China’s strong political will and determination to reduce the implementation gap with respect to ratified ILO fundamental conventions on child labour.

Over the years the international community has developed a framework of international standards to protect children from child labour, in particular the two important ILO Conventions on the subject and more broadly the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Whilst some progress is being made to reduce child labour in too many cases the rights contained in these international standards are still not fully applied in practice or enforced.

The ILO Conventions No. 138 on Minimum Age for entering into employment and No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour together with other international instruments relating to children’s, workers’ and human rights, provide an important framework for legislation established by national governments. However the ILO’s most recent global estimate is that 215 million children worldwide are involved in child labour, with more than half this number involved in its worst forms. The children concerned should be at school being educated, and acquiring skills that will prepare them for decent work as adults. By entering the labour market prematurely, children are deprived of the education and training that can help to lift them, their families and communities out of a cycle of poverty. In its worst forms, child labourers are exposed to physical, psychological or moral suffering that can cause long term damage to their lives.

The principles and rights established in ILO’s eight core Conventions are considered to be human rights which all ILO Member States are required to respect, promote and realise. The “fundamental principles and rights at work” concern freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour, the abolition of child labour, and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. These four categories of rights are mutually reinforcing: the elimination of child labour will be achieved much more quickly and efficiently when the other rights are also respected.

However, according to a new ILO report, progress in reducing child labour has often been undermined by a failure to translate commitments into practice. The largest gap between commitment and action is in the informal economy, where the majority of violations of fundamental labour rights occur. Children in rural and agricultural areas, as well as children of migrant workers and indigenous peoples, are most vulnerable to being caught in child labour.

Along with ILO member States, China has ratified the two fundamental Conventions concerning the abolition of child labour, notably C. 138 on Minimum Age and C. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. China has also accepted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Chinese labour inspection system, which is endowed with responsibility of enforcing national labour law, plays a very important role in combating child labour. The draft Decent Work Country Programme in China for the period 2012-2015 has placed “Strengthening the inspection and enforcement of labor law” as one of its key objectives. Labour inspectors have traditionally been key partners in eliminating child labour. ILO works to build the capacities of labour inspectorates and other enforcement agencies to take action against child labour, especially in respect of hazardous child labour and child labour monitoring. With our joint efforts, we hope that the capacity of the labour inspection service will be further strengthened, law enforcement will be enhanced and child labour will be effectively abolished.

Although governments must take the lead role in tackling child labour, the ILO standards stress the important role that employers’ and workers’ organizations should play in setting and implementing action programmes. Many civil society organizations are also closely involved in efforts to tackle child labour. The All China Women’s Federation, for example, cooperates closely with ILO in combating child trafficking and promoting safe migration through the CP/TING project.

The ILO will continue to support the Chinese constituents and other parties concerned to fully implement the ratified ILO Conventions and work towards the goal of a world free from child labour.

In closing, I would like to wish you all a fruitful discussion. I look forward to continuing our cooperation in the future.