OSLO (ILO/UNICEF News) Branding the use of child workers a "severe violation" of basic human rights and a threat to global economic and social growth, delegates at a 40-nation international Conference here today adopted a sweeping global strategy for eliminating child labour and called for its urgent implementation.
In a global "Agenda for Action," the International Conference on Child Labour urged a time-bound programme to eliminate child labour and called on nations to give urgent, immediate priority to ending the most intolerable or extreme forms of child labour (slave and slave-like practices, forced or compulsory labour including debt bondage and serfdom, the use of children in prostitution, pornography, and the drug trade and other forms of dangerous or hazardous work, and work that interferes with children's education).
While the delegates highlighted preventive measures, especially education, as the most cost effective way to combat child labour, they also urged nations to work "progressively" to eliminate child labour among children of school age, especially activities that interfere with children's development and education, and step up global "investment in the human capital from early childhood, e.g., education and health" as a tool for economic and social development that can also help reduce the number of working children.
"This Agenda for Action is firmly anchored in reality," said Hilde F. Johnson, the Minister of Development and Human Rights of Norway, which convened the four-day Conference. "Investment in the physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development of children is an ethical, social and economic imperative for all societies.
"Child labour is both a consequence and a cause of poverty, and strategies for poverty reduction are needed to address the root cause of child labour," she said. "Girls are especially vulnerable."
The Conference was organized in collaboration with the International Labour Office (ILO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and gathered over 350 delegates including ministers of development cooperation, labour, education, social welfare and justice from 40 industrialized and developing countries, as well as leaders of trade unions and employers' organizations, non-governmental organizations, United Nations agencies and other multi-lateral organizations and leading experts on child labour.
The work of the Conference was based on the provisions against child labour in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and ILO Convention No. 138. The Conference was the latest in a series of international meetings including the World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of children in 1996 and the Amsterdam Child Labour Conference in February of 1997.
Main elements of the final Agenda for Action including formulating a time-bound programme of action to prevent and eliminate all forms of child labour, starting with the most extreme forms, as well as to provide universal compulsory basic education "free for all" as an essential component of national plans. It also called for ensuring equal access to education for boys and girls, providing vocational training and apprenticeship programmes, and integrating working children into the formal education system.
The action plan also calls for ensuring that social and economic policies to combat poverty focus on the needs of families and communities, with special emphasis on providing families of child workers with sustainable employment and income opportunities; designing and accelerating of national plans of action for eliminating child labour; improving means of gathering data on child labour; adoption and implementation of national legislation and policies on child labour in conformity with international standards; and, ratification and implementation of relevant international instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and ILO Convention No. 138.
The plan also urged that existing bilateral and multilateral development cooperation programmes be examined to assess their effects on child labour, and "where appropriate, in cooperation with the developing countries concerned, adjusting the programmes to ensure better use of resources and a greater impact." The Agenda for Action also urged nations to participate actively in the development and adoption of a new ILO Convention on the most intolerable (extreme) forms of child labour, to be discussed at the next ILO International Labour Conference in Geneva in 1998.