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Amsterdam Conference Focuses on Intolerable Forms of Child Labour


Press release | 26 February 1997


AMSTERDAM (ILO News) - A Conference devoted to eliminating the most intolerable forms of child labour, including slavery, trafficking, sexual exploitation and hazardous work, opened here today in the presence of Her Majesty, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

Over 250 delegates from 30 countries are attending the two-day Conference. Twenty Ministers from developed and developing countries are scheduled to address delegates today (see overleaf). The Conference is organized by the Government of the Netherlands in close cooperation with the International Labour Organization.

The Chairman of the Conference Mr. Ad. Melkert, Minister for Social Affairs and Employment of the Government of the Netherlands said that intolerable forms of child labour were "an inheritance from the industrial revolution" and that "it is high time to get rid of this inheritance."

"Prosperity," he said, "is underpinned by adults who are thoroughly prepared, both physically and mentally," and not by "Children who never received any education, who are hardly, if ever paid for work performed in miserable, unhealthy, hazardous and even criminal conditions."

He called upon delegates to avoid lecturing and finger pointing and to "generate a partnership in place of provocation." He insisted that "the flagrant exploitation of children has to be banned," but that "we must simultaneously offer alternatives to the children and their parents, including education, health care and employment."

Speaking at the opening session, the Director-General of the ILO, Mr. Michel Hansenne, identified intolerable forms of child labour as: work in slavery or slave-like conditions; in forced labour; in prostitution; in mines and factories, deep-sea fishing and commercial agriculture." He denounced the many millions of children employed in such activities as "a veritable insult to human rights and an intolerable assault on the dignity of the individual."

He outlined a programme based on the adoption of a new ILO Convention which would forbid all extreme forms of child labour. He also proposed that ILO and UN member States adopt "a time-bound programme of action to eliminate child labour," focusing initially on degrading and particularly hazardous forms of work. He called for complete prohibition of work by young child (under 12 or 13 years of age) and protection for girls, who are frequently forced into paid domestic service or lured into prostitution and pornography.

He also challenged the international community to intensify efforts to reducing poverty:

"The challenge is for governments of developing countries to address the needs of the poorest of their poor, and for the governments of rich countries to back up their insistence on observance of universal standards with a commensurate commitment for increased resources to attack world poverty." He noted that concerted international action was necessary to stopping such exploitative activities as the cross-border sale and trafficking of children and proposed that "a crime against a child anywhere be considered a crime everywhere."

List of Ministers scheduled to address the Conference

  • - Mr. J. Pronk, Minister for Development Cooperation, the Netherlands
  • - Mr. Diop, Minister of Labour, Senegal
  • - Mr. N. Blüm, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Germany
  • - Mr. C. Earsakul, Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Thailand
  • - Ms. K. Nordheim-Larsen, Minister of Development Cooperation, Norway
  • - Mr. P. Paiva, Minister of Labour, Brazil
  • - Mr. A. Al-Amawy, Minister of Labour, Egypt
  • - Mr. S. Kinyondo, Minister of Labour and Youth Development, Tanzania
  • - Mr. Arunachalam, Minister of Labour, India
  • - Mr. Mannan, Minister of Labour and Manpower, Bangladesh
  • - Ms. Lina Laigo, Minister for Women and Social Welfare, Philippines
  • - Ms. M. Winberg, Minister of Labour, Sweden
  • - Mr. P. Masinde, Minister of Labour and Manpower Development, Kenya
  • - Ms. M. Smet, Minister of Labour, Belgium
  • - Mr. J.L. Nordman, Acting Minister of Labour, Switzerland
  • - Mr. E. Snijders, Minister of Labour, Surinam
  • - Ms. L. Koirala, Minister of Women and Social Welfare, Nepal