GENEVA (ILO News) - Millions of child labourers and legally employed adolescents face "systemic" violence at their places of work, ranging from physical or verbal abuse to sexual harassment, rape and even murder, according to a new "World Report on Violence Against Children" ( Note 1) published today, Universal Children's Day.
The International Labour Organization (ILO), which contributed to the study, called for zero tolerance of violence against the estimated 218 million child labourers and some 100 million adolescents who are legally employed worldwide. The UN study is the most comprehensive examination of violence again children ever undertaken and is expected to launch a new movement to try and control or halt the practice.
Although global figures are unobtainable due to the "hidden" nature of the problem and the difficulties for children to report incidences of violence against them, the ILO found that in some areas, most working children faced some form of violence in the workplace - either verbal, physical or sexual.
"For many child labourers, violence is a terrifying fact of daily life and must be stopped together with child labour", said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia, in commenting on the UN report. "Worldwide, violence at work is generally on the increase and violence against children and adolescents who work is endemic, and in some cases just 'part of the job'. This must stop."
ILO researchers found that violence against working children is often "part of a collective workplace culture of physical brutality, shouting, bad language, and casual violence including sexual harassment, and in extreme cases, even rape or murder". In addition, the ILO said these children represent the most vulnerable group amid a generalized global increase in violence at the workplace ( Note 2). The report called for "a policy of zero tolerance of violence against children who are working".
"Violence against a single child is one instance of violence too many", said Frans Roselaers, Director of the ILO's Department of Partnerships and Development Cooperation and member of the editorial board of the UN report. "If we acknowledge this, we can accelerate the present rate of reduction in child labour that has been achieved over the last four years, and make this a world without child labour."
According to the report, some categories of child and adolescent workers are particularly at risk of violence: domestic workers, youth in the informal economy, children in debt bondage and modern forms of slavery, and those doing hazardous work. The world's 5.7 million children in forced and bonded labour, including a significant proportion of victims of trafficking, are also at constant risk of violence.
According to the report, children in unsafe working environments are also at constant risk of violence. In 2004, more than 60 per cent of the world's 218 million working children were deemed to be in 'hazardous' workplaces such as glass factories, mines, and plantations and other agriculture where health and safety regulations are often lax or non-existent.
What's more, some situations of working children are tantamount to violence by their very nature, including sexual exploitation and trafficking in human beings, says the report. A blatant example of violence against children is the exploitation of children under 18 in prostitution, pornography or sex shops.
According to the ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), a strong political consensus on the elimination of child labour exists worldwide. More than 80 per cent of the world's children now live in countries that have ratified the two key ILO Conventions on child labour. The ILO said enforcement requires workplace regulations, inspectorates, stiff legal sanctions against the employment of under-age workers, and elimination of illegal activities involving children.
The report recommends comprehensive approaches addressing the economic and cultural causes of child labour, the promotion of education and alternative livelihoods, and social mobilization to change attitudes about child labour and violence against children in workplaces. An example for such an approach are the ILO's 'Time-Bound Programmes' (TBPs) to eliminate child labour comprising a package of interventions covering prevention, withdrawal, rehabilitation and future protection. Over 20 countries have adopted such programmes.
IPEC is the most comprehensive global programme dedicated to the elimination of child labour and the largest single operational programme of the ILO. By December 2005, it was operational in 86 countries, with an annual expenditure on technical cooperation projects that reached over US$70 million in 2005.