Amsterdam Conference Condemns Intolerable Forms of Child Labour: Call for New International Standards and Global Solidarity

ILO/97/5

Press release | 27 February 1997

ILO/97/5

AMSTERDAM (ILO News) - The most abusive forms of child labour were unanimously condemned by delegates to the Amsterdam Child Labour Conference, which ended here today with a call for solidarity on a global scale to meet the challenge of "eradicating child exploitation as a matter of paramount urgency."

In a concluding statement to the plenary session, the Conference Chairman, Mr. Ad Melkert, Minister of Social Affairs and Employment of the Netherlands, urged participating countries and ILO and UN member States to "launch a time-bound programme of action to eliminate child labour and to immediately put an end to its most intolerable forms - slavery and slave-like practices, forced or compulsory labour, including debt bondage and serfdom, the use of children in prostitution, pornography, and the drugs trade, and their employment in any type of work that is dangerous, harmful or hazardous or that interferes with their education." He said that "there must be a total prohibition of work by the very young and special protection for girls," and warned of the increasing risks posed by criminality.

In his conclusions, the Chairman called upon the ILO to expand the scope of its work and to regularly report on global trends in the number of children removed and rehabilitated from exploitative situations and provided with alternatives. He said: "This systematic world-wide monitoring would be a mechanism to review periodically and to identify best practices in combatting child labour." The Government of the Netherlands pledged the first US$ 1 million for the operation of such a trend-reporting system, which will be implemented via the ILO's International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour, and urged other governments to consider other contributions.

The Conference, attended by over 250 delegates from 30 countries, was organized by the Government of the Netherlands in close cooperation with the International Labour Organization. Its goal was to raise public awareness of the plight of millions of children working under intolerable conditions in activities that are physically, morally and intellectually debilitating for their health and well-being.

An ILO report prepared for the Conference estimated that of the approximately 250 million working children between the ages of 5 and 14, nearly half work full time. The vast majority of child workers are involved in commercial agriculture and other rural activities, putting them at risk of injury and poisoning from dangerous chemicals and pesticides. Many others work in small, often family-run businesses for little or no pay. Domestic service absorbs millions of girl workers, whose only reward is usually board and lodging in return for long hours of unpaid housework.

Though the report identified poverty as the main factor in child labour, it said that poverty was not the only cause. ILO highlights particularly vulnerable groups, including minorities, migrants, lower caste or indigenous people whose children are at high risk of exploitation for both cultural and economic reasons. In a speech to the Conference, Mr. Michel Hansenne condemned these intolerable forms of child labour as "gross violations of international law and national legislation, which are unjustified by any economic circumstances."

He called for increased ratification of existing ILO Conventions on child labour and for strengthened ILO supervisory mechanisms to combat these and other fundamental human-rights abuses in the workplace. The ILO, which counts 174 member States, is on track to adopt a new international Convention that would prohibit the most exploitative forms of child labour.

The Amsterdam Conference is one of the major international meetings on child labour foreseen in 1997, the other being the Oslo Conference, organized by the Government of Norway, to be held in October. The Amsterdam Conference, in collaboration with the ILO and international agencies, is part of an increasing international effort to find equitable and enduring solutions to the problem of child labour in all countries.