Trade unions and employers alone can certainly not end child labour. It will take the concerted effort of all concerned. Governments, however, will have a critical role to play in this struggle. But governments vary enormously in their attitude towards the problem. Some governments will sincerely want to end child labour. Others will pretend to be interested as long as there is international pressure or embarrassment. Besides, governments are not consistent. Ruling parties lose elections, a new party comes to power with a different political agenda.
Governments have to:
- provide moral and political leadership by informing and educating society about the dangers and consequences of continuing to accept the exploitation of children in inhuman, degrading and hazardous conditions of work;
- provide the policy and administrative framework for a concerted and comprehensive programme of national action; and
- indicate clearly their determination to bring about the eradication of unacceptable forms of child labour through, for example, the commitment of substantial public funds for the purpose.
It is also essential that the machinery of government is mobilized to tackle the problem in a coherent and coordinated manner. The eradication of child labour concerns not only ministries of labour, although they generally play a leading role in the action of public authorities in this area. It concerns various other ministries, including those responsible for national development, economic policy, rural and industrial development, public health, social protection, education and law enforcement. In fact, concern with the eradication of the worst forms of child labour has to be mainstreamed into all areas of economic and social policy.
It also concerns all levels of government, especially including local government, which is closer to the realities of life in the workplaces and communities in which children live and work. As suggested earlier, the creation of a child labour unit in some central position in the machinery of government can help to bring about a fully coordinated approach among various ministries; if it has sufficient authority and visibility, such a unit can ensure that all departments and levels of government give programmes in this area the priority and commitment that they deserve, and it can play a major role in mobilizing popular understanding and support for the government's action.
In those countries with national law concerning child labour, there is almost certainly a labour inspectorate charged with its enforcement. A meeting of labour inspection experts dealing with child labour was organized by the ILO in 1999 (Meeting of Experts on Labour Inspection and Child labour, Geneva 1999). The conclusion of the experts makes interesting reading. There are very real problems now facing labour inspectors, the meeting pointed out.
One problem is the lack of resources. The other big problem is interference from those who benefit from child labour. Frequently these are powerful people, who are themselves, or who know, political leaders or officials who will put pressure on inspectors.
Improving the enforcement of legislation must be one of the main priority areas for action to eliminate the worst forms of child labour. This involves not only strengthening labour inspection services and training labour inspectors to detect and deal with the most serious cases of hazardous and abusive child labour - often in collaboration with the police - but also developing new approaches to the problem. Labour inspectors are more likely to obtain the support and cooperation of families and local communities if they see their role not only as one of policing the workplace, but also of providing advice and assistance to child workers, their parents and employers.
Parliamentarians have a key role to play in making this happen. As lawmakers, they can encourage ratification of the Convention. They can also help to fashion policy, adopt the requisite national legislation, vote the necessary budgets and oversee the day-to-day action of the government.
It is a matter of international concern
No longer can it be said that the manner in which children are treated is purely a domestic matter. The shrinking of the globe through modern communications technology has brought the plight of working children in developing countries to the attention of people throughout the world and has generated international pressure to put an end to the worst forms of exploitation of children.
Such pressure has, for instance, led to increased cooperation among countries for the prosecution of those responsible for the prostitution and trafficking of children and child pornography.
It has also given rise to calls for consumer boycotts of products made with child labour. Some companies importing goods from developing countries now demand that suppliers not use child labour and some companies label products, such as rugs, to guarantee that they were not made by children. Although the proportion of child labourers engaged in the production of goods for exports may be very small in most countries (according to some estimates, it represents less than 5 per cent of all working children), international concern about their fate has been a major factor in generating pressure to put an end to all the worst forms of child labour.
The international prestige and standing of a country, and even its access to international markets, today depend to some considerable extent on its commitment to tackling child labour, especially its worst forms.