Child labour

The ILO’s Global Report on Child Labour suggests an overall decline in the number of children working in transition economies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Economic growth and poverty reduction linked with political commitment to combating child labour have led to significant progress. The ratification rate of both of the ILO Child Labour Conventions has been encouraging. All 10 countries of the region have ratified both fundamental ILO Conventions No. 138 and No. 182.

However, large problems remain in certain parts of the region, especially among Central Asian countries and in the Caucusus, where large informal economies foster the exploitation of children. In urban areas, many street children still fall victim to the worst forms of child labour– sexual exploitation, drug trade, and other work that is harmful to their physical and mental development. In rural settings, children still perform hazardous work in agriculture, especially during cotton harvest. Moreover, the last 15 years have seen a steep decline in pre–school attendance, secondary schooling and Vocational Education and Training (VET). Illiteracy is also on the rise in some countries. These trends contribute directly to the child labour problem.

Furthermore, children from rural areas are trafficked to urban centres or wealthier countries for labour exploitation. Reliable statistics on the magnitude of trafficking remain unavailable. Data from government agencies mostly relate to prosecutions and, therefore, vastly underestimate the extent of the problem.

Public awareness of child labour is still very limited, making it difficult to build grass roots support for collective action. The ILO strategy, therefore, has been to develop and promote models of intervention to combat child labour at both the regional and national levels. Through its International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), the ILO is implementing a number of regional and country specific technical cooperation programmes. More then 5000 children at risk and their parents have been reached through these activities. Usually a two–pronged approach is chosen that involves both strengthening relevant governmental institutions, social partners, and NGOs on how to combat child labour, while directly supporting (ex–) working street children and their families.

The programmes are carried out in close cooperation with government agencies, particularly Ministries of Labour. The programmes involve employers’ organizations in order to create conditions for successful business with child labour–free workplaces. Trade unions play a key role in protecting workers’ rights and interests, including awareness– raising and sensitization campaigns. Teachers’ unions are often involved, since teachers are well placed to know of and combat child labour. In addition, civil society, with its close ties to and knowledge of local communities plays a crucial role in the prevention and elimination of the worst forms of child labour. We seek to build sustainable, community–based structures and to nurture leadership and solidarity among youth. Through training peer educators, we seek to empower young people and in this way build local capacities to combat the worst forms of child labour.

Our key messages are that the worst forms of child labour cannot be tolerated in any society, regardless of its level of economic development. Child labour is a blight on progress, and time bound programmes to combat child labour are a crucial part of economic and social development. The recent reductions in child labour in some countries in transition demonstrates the possibilities for success.