Opening Remarks to the ILO/Japan/Korea Asian Meeting on Action to Combat Child Domestic Labour

by Mr Yasuyuki Nodera, Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Chiang Mai | 02 October 2002

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen.

On behalf of the ILO Regional office for Asia and the Pacific, it is my great pleasure to welcome you all to this ILO-Japan-Korea Asian Meeting on Action to Combat Child Domestic Labour.

I would like to thank the tripartite national delegations representing the government, employers and workers of 16 Asian countries; observers, including the donor community, as well as the international organizations and NGOs for joining us here to discuss this serious problem and seek out appropriate solutions.

I would also like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to the governments of Korea and Japan for financially supporting this event. I would also like to thank the government of Thailand for hosting this regional meeting. Ladies and gentlemen of the press, I also thank you for your interest and attendance at the opening of this meeting.

While the use of child domestic workers is common in many Asian countries, the issue is rarely in the spotlight, and so opportunities to address the problem are scarce. While most domestic workers are adults, a significant number are under 18 years of age. A combination of traditional values, practices and poverty has been used to justify and support the use of child domestic labour in Asia, and in many ways it has historically been widely accepted by many quarters as being a ‘good’ thing for children to be involved in such work. There has been a tendency to ignore the risks and negative long-term impact on children involved in domestic labour. Unfortunately, in many cases, children involved in domestic work face hazardous and exploitative working conditions, excessive working hours, and unfair contract terms. They are often isolated from their families and communities, deprived of education, and are vulnerable to sexual or other forms of harassment.

The fact that child domestic workers are usually employed on private premises means that they are often hidden from the public. This means they are difficult to reach, and are extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

One significant difference between child domestic labour and other forms of child labour is that those employed in domestic labour are often forced to work ‘around-the-clock’. Often, the nature of the work means that employers can call upon them at any time of day.

Child domestic workers usually work seven days a week, and are rarely granted holidays or leave of absence. They work long hours in harsh working conditions, and are often forced to undertake hazardous and risky tasks.

Since they are frequently locked inside their place of employment, there is little scope for child domestic workers to escape in the case of an emergency, such as a fire.

Child domestic workers are at the mercy of exploitative employers, and they receive nominal, or even no payment for their efforts. Isolation and even separation mean that child domestic workers often maintain little or no contact with their own families. Deprived of a normal childhood, they have no access to formal education, and have no hope for the future.

These factors show that the use of child domestic workers is unacceptable, as evidenced in ILO Conventions 138 and 182, and in the UN’s Conventions on Children’s rights. In light of this, the ILO feels very strongly that the issue of child domestic workers in Asia needs to be quickly addressed.

Female child domestic workers have been identified as being particularly vulnerable to physical, emotional and sexual abuse in their places of work, while clear links have been identified between domestic child workers and trafficking, as well as other ‘worst forms’ of child labour. The practice is perceived by many as being a form of slavery, in that the children are frequently confined and at the mercy of their employers. It represents a violation of children’s rights and doesn’t allow them to develop in a healthy, human way. Obviously, this means we should act quickly to put a halt to this exploitative practice.

Those trying to address the problem of child domestic labour have historically faced significant hurdles. The very fact that the children are isolated has meant that the issues are difficult to address. Since domestic child labour is frequently not officially recognized as labour, very little, or indeed no legal framework exists in order to protect the children from the associated risks.

According to the ILO Global Report 2002, "A Future without Child Labour", child domestic work is not often given close attention by policy makers and is frequently excluded from the coverage of child labour legislation.

In order to address the issue of child domestic work constructively and effectively, ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour provides a useful strategic framework. This convention, already ratified by 130 countries, has a number of important provisions applying to child domestic labour. However, this type of child labour has not been explicitly identified as a worst form of child labour within the convention itself, but is elaborated upon within the accompanying recommendation.

Intensive discussions took place during the 1998 and 1999 International Labour Conferences as to whether or not child domestic labour should be considered a ‘worst form’. Long-standing values and cultural practices have meant that there is a relatively diverse range of opinions on the subject, while progress has differed markedly from country to country.

Each individual country has a responsibilty to identify child domestic labour as one of the worst forms of child labour, and to make sure that the rights of children that are victims of the practice are sufficiently protected.

Article 3 of Convention 182 and Recommendation 190 provide scope for child domestic labour to be listed as a worst form of child labour. Numerous countries, including those who have initiated time-bound programmes thus far, such as Nepal, the Philippines, Tanzania, and El Salvador, have included child domestic labour as one of the worst forms of child labour and have taken a strong stance against it. It is my sincere hope that the countries in Asia in this region will follow the same path and address the serious problems which are generated by the practice

Together with its development partners, ILO-IPEC operates five large-scale projects, which focus on assisting children caught up in domestic work in Central and South America, East Africa and Asia. The projects are aimed at providing help on three fronts, by means of prevention, withdrawal and rehabilitation, and through advocacy. We certainly face challenges in achieving our aims. The fact that child domestic workers are isolated or invisible, means that they are difficult to reach, while this means it is also difficult to make contact with their employers. The fact that many consider child domestic labour to be a ‘commonly accepted’ practice means that many people are unwilling to accept the degree of risk linked with those who are employed in it.

Therefore, it is our job to quickly raise awareness on this issue. We must help to make child domestic workers more visible, provide them with a voice, and recognize their problems and rights in terms of protection and access to an education.

In order to better understand child domestic labourers, ILO-IPEC has conducted 7 rapid assessments on child domestic labour over recent years. The findings of these studies have confirmed that child domestic labour is a worldwide problem, affecting both rich and poor nations. The magnitude of the problems associated with child domestic labour has made us more determined than ever to develop effective solutions. Governments, civil society, international aid organizations and NGOs have also been involved in initiatives aimed at eliminating the practice. Many of these organizations, including NGOs, have been very active in this area, and are at the forefront of internventions aimed at halting the use of child domestic labour. We have also seen child workers themselves participate in protests in some countries against the abusive and exploitative practice.

During this week’s seminar, we will review the situation with regard to child domestic labour in Asia, while representatives of government, employers’ and workers’ groups will air their views on the issue. We also aim to develop appropriate intervention strategies in order to combat child domestic labour in the region.

I am confident that this meeting will enable us to develop a greater undertanding of the issues, and those who are worst affected. This will hopefully help us to determine policy initiatives and program interventions to combat the problem.

The input and efforts of those involved in this meeting are expected to help us achieve a common understanding in the development of a draft framework for National Plans of Action at a later stage. This framework will likely help provide the region with greater insight and a more focussed direction toward the development of effective policies, plans and support mechanisms for rehabilitation and for the prevention of child domestic work.

I would like to conclude my opening remarks by wishing you all a fruitful and productive meeting, while offering our thanks for your active interest. This meeting is just a small step in the fight against child domestic labour. ILO-IPEC is committed to combating the problem and looks forwarded to working with you all.