OSLO (ILO/UNICEF News) Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik urged delegates at a 40-nation International Conference here today to accelerate worldwide action to free children from "degrading toil" that turns them into "robots", deprives them of a normal life, and threatens global economic and social development.
"What we are discussing is the labour that turns children into instruments and robots, the degrading toil which steals from the children their very childhood, which deprives them of the most important tool to break the poverty cycle-education," Bondevik told ministers and experts at the International Conference on Child Labour. "It must be brought to an end."
Bondevik was the first speaker at Wednesday's session launching two days of high-level political discussions aimed at producing a global "Agenda for Action" before the Conference closes on Thursday. Also speaking at the session were Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Michel Hansenne, Director General of the ILO.
Lashing out at poverty as the "greatest threat to the child's right to survival and development," Bondevik stated that "investing in development, should also mean investing in children not least in their education. This is not only an ethical and a social imperative for all societies, but it also makes good economic sense. Extensive use of child labour is not only devastating for the children concerned, it also slows down economic and social development."
Bondevik said "The obligation to develop and implement policies, legislation and other measures for the elimination of child labour rests with the Government of each country. Very few countries in the world, if any, are economically unable to intensify their efforts to combat child labour".
Bondevik announced that Norway would provide up to 200 million Norwegian kroner for the battle against child labour over the next three years. Mr. Bondevik said Norway would increase to 10 percent the portion of its development budget devoted to education by the year 2000, and increase that figure to 15 percent thereafter.
The work of the Oslo Conference is based upon the provisions against child labour in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and ILO Convention No. 138. The meeting follows an earlier international conference on child labour, organized in February by the Government of the Netherlands in Amsterdam.
In handing over to Bondevik, the Chairman of the Amsterdam Conference, Minister of Labour Ad Melkert said, "The Amsterdam Conference was a leap forward to commitment and action. We are here again because we all have been seized by a sense of urgency with regard to the abolishment of child labour...I hope that after this Conference, we will disperse with concrete and binding agreements on strategies to further suppress child labour."
Calling the worldwide scope of child labour "appalling and unacceptable," Bellamy urged governments to adopt a time-bound programme of action to eliminate all extreme forms of child labour especially labour that denies children their fundamental right to education.
"Child labourers around the world, most of whom are engaged in extreme and hazardous forms of work, are being robbed of their fundamental rights not only including the right to develop to the fullest through education, but the right to a childhood", Bellamy said.
Bellamy called education "the single most effective tool we have for eliminating child labour," and said "it is increasingly clear there will be no long-term solution to child labour unless the challenge of basic education for all is also addressed."
In his address, Hansenne said: "Allow me to start with one bold statement. The war against child labour is being won and it can be won in all countries in the coming 15 years."
Noting that millions of child labourers were "defenseless" and had neither the time nor the opportunity to have any 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.
Hansenne noted that the ILO is preparing a draft convention on this subject will be examined at the International Labour Conference in 1998 and could result in the adoption of a Convention and a Recommendation at the Conference in 1999.
Bellamy told the Conference that "UNICEF wholeheartedly endorses the idea of a new and more focused ILO Convention, a Convention that will set specific, time-bound targets for the elimination of extreme forms of child labour, such as bonded labour and trafficking; that is focused specifically at children under 12; and that includes in its definition of extremely exploitative labour any form of work that denies a child's right to basic education".
Noting that the question of child labour had become central in the context of the liberalization of world trade, Hansenne stated: "Ours should be a principled position that mankind owes to the child the best it has to give, that global action against child labour is based not on unilateral action and trade sanctions, but on multilateral voluntary action and moral pressure. The globalization and liberalization of world trade must be accompanied by observance of fundamental rights of workers, including the prohibition of child labour."