Child Labour in Pacific island countries

The Challenge

A child collects scrap metal in Fiji 
Child labour is an issue that affects the most vulnerable in our society, our children. In recognising the critical nature of the issue, the ILO has prioritised combating child labour in its core functions ever since its inception over 90 years ago. This work has led to the steady decline in instances of child labour over the past decades. Worldwide, child labour numbers have declined from 246 million to 168 million between the periods 2008 – 2012. In particular, the Asia and the Pacific region has registered by far the largest absolute decline in child labour among 5-17 year-olds, from 114 million to 78 million.

Although this is a major achievement for the region respectively, there remains a lot to be done. Child labour in the Pacific provides unique challenges as the region confronts its own development and growth problems. Cultural diversity, traditional practices, familial obligations, poverty, slow economic growth and lack of employment opportunities are issues that contribute to and also impact on children at work in the Pacific.

Furthermore, current national legislations, policies and institutional frameworks in countries are not adequately equipped to deal with the complex issues that arise. Often, defining what constitutes child labour in specific national contexts is a challenging issue which first needs to be addressed. The lack of awareness and knowledge on child labour is also of concern and having no related definition, child labour is often deemed acceptable, especially considering cultural and familial obligations that children are required to fulfil in the Pacific.

Currently, governments in the Pacific region often lack the capacity at the national, regional and local levels as well as the required legislations to implement necessary actions for the successful elimination of child labour.

The ILO response in the Pacific

The ILO Office for the Pacific currently serves 22 Pacific Island Countries, eleven of which are ILO member States. The ILO develops international labour standards and works with members states to ensure they are respected in practice as well as principle. The ILO Office for Pacific Island Countries based in Fiji, provides technical assistance to eleven member States (Fiji, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Republic of Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga, and Vanuatu), as well as to non-member states in the region as required, on a wide range of areas including: labour migration; the elimination of child labour; promotion of gender equality; labour law reform; protecting seafarers; labour market statistics; occupational safety and health; HIV/AIDs in the workplace; youth employment; and entrepreneurship development.

The ILO’s special role in the elimination of child labour cannot be overemphasized. Its great advantage is the involvement of its social partners (employers’ and workers’ organizations) along with governments in all its action as participants and not as simple observers. This is crucial in promoting the agenda of eliminating child labour as a vital part of the development agenda of a country, as well as in mobilizing both businesses and the people working therein. Moreover, the ILO has been playing a key role in providing an impetus to and framework for global and regional efforts against child labour, both through its standard-setting and technical assistance.

browse related information

  1. Concept Note: Regional Efforts for Eliminating the Worst Forms of Child Labour and Trafficking in Pacific Island Countries

    Building on the Fiji Experience as Pacific Hub of Excellence

  2. Child labour in Papua New Guinea: The first comprehensive child labour research report for Papua New Guinea.

    The report of child labour in Papua New Guinea provides an overview of the processes, key findings and recommendations of the Child Labour Research Surveys, supported through the TACKLE project, in two sectors in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea including: i. Commercial sexual exploitation of children; and ii. Children working on the streets.

  3. Child labour in Fiji: a survey of working children in commercial sexual exploitation, on the streets, in rural agricultural communities, in informal and squatter settlements and in schools

    A summary report of five child labour research surveys conducted in Fiji through the ILO International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC). The report provides an overview of the processes, key findings and recommendations of the surveys.

  4. Legislative compliance review of child labour laws in Fiji

    This report examines Fiji’s compliance with the International Labour Organization’s (“ILO”) Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No.138) (“ILO Convention No. 138”) and ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) (“ILO Convention No. 182.”).