Child labour sustains poverty. Education promotes development.
Child labour can involve work that enslaves children, separates them from their families and condemns them and their families to a downward spiral of poverty and deprivation. It undermines sustainable development and deprives countries of one of their richest resources: human capital.
Child labour does not lift any child out of poverty. A good education does. A working child may earn a small wage and it may be enough to keep a family from falling apart. Still, a small wage cannot change their world the way an education can.
Child labour keeps economies from growing equitably. An educated youth helps economies flourish.
It is the opportunities and experiences during the most formative stages – childhood and youth – that shape people’s access to decent work and enable them to enjoy security and protection for the rest of their lives. Education is the first step to decent work. Employment opportunities represent the next step. The school-to-work transition is very important for young women and men. How easily and effectively they make that leap depends on how well prepared they are for the labour market.
If nothing is done, child labourers become youth with poor employment prospects who cannot lift their own families out of a poverty trap, cannot become parents who give their children a better life, and cannot contribute effectively to national development.
More and more leaders within the APEC sphere understand the bigger picture for their countries – if a large segment of their populations remain unschooled or unskilled. This constitutes a major development challenge in an environment of increasing international competitiveness and interdependence.
Aside from the obvious benefits of education and training to a country’s development efforts, universal primary education is a child’s basic human right. The international community has consistently articulated and reiterated this right through national and international law. The importance of free basic education is central to the ILO Conventions on child labour
APEC leaders have responded to both the development challenges and human rights demands to work harder to remove anyone younger than 18 from the worst forms of child labour. This, they recognize, means increasing access to educational and training opportunities among Member Economies’ poorest children.
APEC steps into the picture
APEC was established in 1989 to further enhance economic growth and prosperity for the region and to strengthen the Asia-Pacific community. APEC's 21 Member Economies are Australia; Brunei Darussalam; Canada; Chile; People's Republic of China; Hong Kong, China; Indonesia; Japan; Republic of Korea; Malaysia; Mexico; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Peru; The Republic of the Philippines; The Russian Federation; Singapore; Chinese Taipei; Thailand; United States of America and Viet Nam. APEC’s Human Resources Development Working Group was established in 1990 and conducts work programmes to develop human resources on issues ranging from education to labour to capacity building.
In 2001, the International Labour Organization (ILO), in a unique partnership with the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), launched an inter-regional initiative to address the problem of the worst forms of child labour and the lack of educational opportunities in selected APEC member economies. The project, entitled ‘APEC Awareness Raising Campaign: Eliminating the Worst Forms of Child Labour and Providing Educational Opportunities’ was in response to the landmark APEC Joint Ministerial Statement in 1999, which specifically directed the APEC Human Resources Development Working Group to promote educational opportunities for youth and related methods of combating child labour:
The Human Resources Development Working Group should be a forum to promote educational opportunities for youth in the region and should explore these and other ways of eliminating the worst forms of child labour. We direct the Working Group to give priority to this issue and to implement an activity in support of this work...
The HRD Working Group will develop a project to exchange information on best practices for eliminating the worst forms of child labour and promote educational opportunities for youth in the region. The work should use the collective experiences of APEC to consider regional perspectives on the issue and share experiences regarding successful approaches.
The regional cooperation and the national and local activities initiated under the project should not be seen as a closed chapter, but rather as a starting point for APEC and its member economies to make greater contributions to the world wide movement against child labour. One of the major achievements of the project has been the political commitment of the governments and their partners to mainstream child labour across all relevant policy frameworks. This will ensure that national development priorities include the elimination of child labour, and that education and training are considered to be effective mechanisms to support this objective.