GENEVA (ILO News) - The global campaign against the worst forms of child labour receives a powerful new boost on Sunday, 19 November, the date when the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Convention No. 182 comes into force as international law.
With more than 25 % of the ILO's 175 member States already formal signatories to the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, its coming into force means that they must take immediate and effective action to prohibit and eliminate these forms of child labour which include prostitution, pornography, forced recruitment for use in armed conflict and use of children in illicit or hazardous activities for all those under 18 years of age.
What is more, ILO member States which have not yet ratified Convention No. 182 must, without being bound by each and every one of its provisions, still gear their policies towards the effective abolition of child labour.
All member States of the ILO will also be legally bound to report annually to the Organization on their efforts regarding the worst forms of child labour, as well as child labour in general as defined under the Organization's other labour standard on child labour, the Minimum Age Convention (No. 138).
"This is a clear demonstration of the rapidly growing movement to eradicate as quickly as possible the most abusive exploitation of children," ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said. "With Convention No. 182, the world is declaring that all these forms of child labour are morally abhorrent in any society, whatever its developmental stage or cultural traditions."
The ILO estimates that some 250 million children aged 5-14 are victims of child labour around the world, half of them working full time. Of these, tens of millions are caught in the worst forms.
To date, nearly 50 * of the ILO's 175 member States - or 25 % of the Organization's total membership - have ratified the Convention, giving it more ratifications than any other Convention in a comparable time during the Organization's 81-year history.
Convention No. 182 comes in force: What it means
Convention No. 182 defines the worst forms of child labour as slavery, debt bondage, prostitution, pornography, forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict, use of children in drug trafficking and other illicit activities, and all other work harmful or hazardous to the health, safety or morals of girls and boys under 18 years of age.
The Convention was adopted unanimously by the International Labour Conference on 17 June 1999. The first ratification was by the Seychelles on 28 September1999, and the second by Malawi on 19 November 1999. The date of 19 November 2000 thus emerges as its date of coming into force, since the Convention itself provides that it would come into force 12 months after the date of the second ratification.
It is important to differentiate between the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, and the ILO's other core convention on child labour, the "Minimum Age Convention". This convention was adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1973 and entered into force in 1976. It aims at the overall abolition of child labour, rather than focussing on its worst forms, and stipulates that the minimum age for admission to employment shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling.
The recent global mobilization to eliminate child labour has been reflected in the sharply increased ratification rate for the Minimum Age Convention. The pace of ratifications of this previous convention has increased rapidly this year, from only a few per year in the early 1990s. By the end of October 2000, 102 ILO member States had ratified Convention No. 138.
The text of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention has been in existence since its adoption a year ago. Member States were free to take action as indicated in its provisions. However, now that it is "in force" as an international law, a member State, which has ratified Convention No.182 and for which it has come into force (i.e. 12 months after its own ratification date), becomes bound under international law to align its national law and practice to the requirements of the Convention.
In addition, a ratifying member State must also report regularly to the ILO regarding the application of the Convention and be accountable for allegations of violations. Furthermore, the progress of ratification will be followed closely by the ILO Governing Body as part of the ratification campaign for the ILO's fundamental Conventions, which the Office has been carrying out since 1995 following the Copenhagen Social Summit.
Under the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work adopted in 1998, member States which have not ratified the Convention will be required for the first time in 2001 to report on their situation with regard to respect for the principle of the abolition of the worst forms of child labour, and the efforts they have made to this end. They will be given the opportunity to request technical assistance from the ILO.
Impact of Convention No. 182
Since the adoption of Convention No. 182, there has been a dramatic increase in activity, not only against child labour in its worst forms, but also against the practice in general. For example, the number of countries working with the ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) has increased significantly. In June 1999, IPEC had 37 participating countries which had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and about 30 countries involved in the programme in a less formal way. Now, 51 countries have signed the MOU and 23 are countries associated with IPEC.
Highlights of the impact of IPEC can be found around the world. Just a few examples include Bangladesh, where the National Academy for Primary Education introduced a child labour component as a regular feature in the training course for all officials of the education department. In South Africa, the development of a National Plan of Action for the eradication of the worst forms is underway. In Turkey, a projected Five-Year National Development Plan (2001-05) and a large integrated programme targeting small-scale industries in Izmir has been approved, aiming at the elimination of the worst forms of child labour by the year 2004.
In Central American countries, new large-scale projects on commercial agriculture and fireworks production are being developed. In South American countries, new large-scale projects on domestic service, child prostitution, mining and child soldiers are underway. In Chile, for example, five commissions were set up with the mission to develop the basic components of a recently formulated National Plan of Action on child labour. In Brazil, the Federal Government announced a US$500 million programme to withdraw 866,000 children from the worst forms of child labour by the end of 2002. In El Salvador, Nepal and Tanzania, Time Bound Programmes (TBP) are being launched to eliminate the worst forms of child labour in a defined period of time.
In legal terms, other activities are being undertaken. In Kenya, the harmonization of laws on children and labour as well as the development of a national child labour policy are underway. In Senegal, national laws and labour codes are being harmonized with Convention No. 182 and internal legislation on sexual exploitation and violence towards minors is being reinforced. Tanzania is reviewing and updating labour legislation. Uganda is also reviewing and amending labour codes and laws to harmonize them with ILO Conventions Nos. 138 and 182.
One example of the impact of Convention No. 182 comes from Indonesia, where a particularly hazardous form of child labour on Jermals or fishing platforms, has been strongly reduced. Within a few months after the adoption of the Convention, and a few months prior to ratification, Indonesia became one of the first countries to take time-bound measures to eliminate the employment of children on such fishing platforms. By the end of 2001, 1,900 children working in the fishing sector in selected areas of North Sumatra will have been systematically removed from hazardous and exploitative work.
In Nepal, another example has been involved in the outlawing of the Kamaiya system of bonded labour which involved children as well as adults. The decision followed a pledge by the same Government in May to eradicate bonded child labour within a certain time-frame. The ILO is working with the government to ensure that the eradication is sustainable.
* Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Finland, Ghana, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Malaysia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Namibia, Nicaragua, Niger, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Qatar, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Senegal, Seychelles, Slovakia, South Africa, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, United Kingdom, United States, Yemen.