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Combating child labour: Lessons from the Turkish labour inspection experience

Over the last two years, more than 4,000 children and youth in three Turkish provinces have been withdrawn or prevented from entering the worst forms of child labour thanks to a labour inspection project launched by the ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC). Now, IPEC partners in South Eastern Europe and Central Asia are seeking ways of sharing what they learned more widely.

Article | 07 November 2006

IZMIR (ILO Online) - 16 year-old Ahmet worked in the furniture industry in Izmir where his family had moved ten years before. His father, a casual worker, rarely had work, leaving him unemployed most of the year. His mother did some occasional cleaning work in other households but spent most of the time with her family of seven.

Ahmet daily handled hazardous chemicals and dangerous machinery, surrounded by noise and dust exceeding prescribed levels. He ignored his own coughing and health concerns until an official visited his workplace and asked him a few questions.

Afterwards, this official had a long talk with Ahmet's employer. He happened to be one of the labour inspectors inspecting workplaces within the framework of the IPEC Action Programme to eliminate the worst forms of child labour in the furniture industry in the provinces of Ankara, Bursa and Izmir implemented by the Labour Inspection Board (LIB) of Turkey.

After convincing the employer and his family of the need to do so, Ahmet was first directed to a Social Support Centre (SSC) established by the action programme. When Ahmet registered to the SSC, a complete medical screening was carried out and a beginning pneumonia diagnosed. Ahmet received medical treatment and went to an institution that enabled him to complete his unfinished primary school education.

His working hours were re-scheduled so as to allow him to continue with school. Ahmet graduated in a record one year's time which allowed him to register with a training centre for apprenticeship leading to a proper professional career in the furniture industry. What's more, two sisters and one brother of Ahmet are being closely followed by the SSC and attend primary school.

As the inspection had not only revealed child labour, but also violation of workplace regulations, the labour inspectorate also discussed workplace improvements with the employer. As a result, a new ventilation system was installed.

Thanks to ILO-IPEC and the Turkish labour inspectorate, more than 4,000 children in the target provinces have been withdrawn or prevented from entering the worst forms of child labour. The project established a credible and comprehensive child labour monitoring and reporting mechanism and developed computer software to keep record on the extent and nature of child labour and school attendance.

The labour inspectors adopted a holistic approach, thereby extending the system of monitoring by adding referral and follow-up services. Through collaboration with other institutions, under age working children have been placed in primary schools while the elder ones were referred to vocational training centres and non-formal education programmes, including literacy courses. Families of children have also been followed and offered assistance through counselling, vocational and skills training and income generating activities.

"Working on elimination of child labour should be a routine part of the work of labour inspectorates around the world. For inspectors, this means helping tackle the problem of 126 million children engaged in dangerous work", says ILO child labour expert Klaus Günther.

However, labour inspectors often face enormous practical difficulties in carrying out his essential element of their mandate. In an effort to improve the situation, the ILO offers policy support for labour inspectorates and support for training of labour inspectors on how to tackle child labour.

Following the success of the project in Turkey, IPEC and the ILO's International Training Centre in Turin, Italy, organized a workshop on labour inspection policies and child labour in Istanbul last week. IPEC partners in Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Romania, Tadjikistan, Turkey, Ukraine and Uzbekistan participated in the workshop.

"The meeting allowed a fruitful exchange of experiences between the countries while learning from the Turkish labour inspection experience. It also contributed to the establishment of a regional network in combatting child labour", concludes Klaus Günther.