ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

86th Session
Geneva, June 1998



Report of the Committee on Child Labour

Committee report
Proposed conclusions

Submission, discussion and adoption

Original French: The PRESIDENT -- We shall now turn to a Committee report which is just as important, and which is very much in line with the Declaration. I refer to the Committee on Child Labour.

I call on Ms. Melkas, the Reporter, to present the report of the Committee.

Ms. MELKAS (Government delegate, Finland; Reporter of the Committee on Child Labour) -- It is an honour and a pleasure for me to present to this assembly the report of the Committee on Child Labour, including the proposed conclusions that contain draft provisions for a new Convention and Recommendation on the worst forms of child labour.

The Committee was assigned the momentous task of developing new international labour standards on child labour which would aim at the immediate elimination of the kinds of work or activity that should not be performed by any child, nor tolerated anywhere in the world.

The discussions took place under the skilful and careful chairmanship of Mr. Achi Atsain, Government member and Minister of Labour of Côte d'Ivoire, assisted by Mr. Assefa Bequele, the representative of the Secretary-General and his team.

All members of the Committee worked together in a spirit of cooperation and consensus-building. In this respect, I would also like to pay tribute to our two Vice-Chairpersons, Mr. Botha and Mr. Trotman, for their constructive attitude and to many Government members for their important and well-informed contributions to the debate. Together, they all contributed to the successful conclusion of this first discussion on the proposed instruments. I am sure that the proposed conclusions which the Committee adopted will serve as a sound basis for next year's discussions.

The members of the Committee were well aware of the importance of the subject under discussion for millions of children that work in extremely hazardous occupations and conditions, doing work which has a severe impact on their health, morals and even, lives. Many of us were deeply moved when participants of the Global March Against Child Labour presented their case to the International Labour Conference. The voices of those children resonated throughout the Committee's discussions, their presence was felt in each decision we took.

There was broad consensus on the need for new standards and that these should take the form of a Convention, supplemented by a Recommendation. Many interventions during the Committee's sittings stressed the importance of a short, yet precise, Convention, containing basic principles capable of being immediately and effectively implemented both in developed and developing countries alike.

While it was acknowledged during the debate that the scourge of child labour has firm roots in poverty, there was broad consensus that poverty should never be used as an excuse to condone the situation of children working in hazardous and life-threatening situations, or in conditions that violate their fundamental rights and dignity.

Considering the need for urgent action, the Committee decided that the basic obligation of States which ratify the Convention should be to take measures to secure the prohibition and immediate elimination of the worst forms of child labour. There was agreement that the instruments should apply to all persons under the age of 18. The definition of the worst forms of child labour was the subject of a passionate, yet highly focused and dignified debate, during which the notion that the Convention should be practical, immediately applicable and targeted at the worst forms of child labour prevailing.

While it was recognized that education has a vital role to play in combating child labour, it was agreed not to include access to education as a criterion for defining the worst forms of child labour.

The Committee also considered the situation of child combatants and children in armed conflicts but a decision on this matter was deferred until the second discussion. The Committee agreed to define the worst forms of child labour as follows: (a) all forms of practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, forced or compulsory labour, debt bondage and serfdom; the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography, or for pornographic performances; (c) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illegal activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs, and (d) any other type of work or activity, which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to jeopardize the health, safety or morals of children.

The Committee agreed that the Convention should call for effective implementation and enforcement, including the provision and application of penal and other sanctions and appropriate mechanisms to monitor application.

In addition, Members who ratify the Convention should design and implement programmes of action to eliminate, as a priority, the worst forms of child labour.

The Committee also agreed to include in the Convention the call for effective and time-bound measures to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, including preventive measures, removal from work, rehabilitation and social reintegration through, among others, access to free basic education and reaching out to children at special risk and taking account of the special situation of girls.

A crucial step for ensuring the successful implementation of the Convention around the world is the call for member States to assist one another through international cooperation or assistance. Such efforts are considered necessary to secure the prohibition and immediate elimination of the worst forms of child labour.

At the same time, there were members of the Committee that thought there needed to be more explicit reference to the responsibility of the international community to support efforts by countries aimed at eradicating the worst forms of child labour, including through technical assistance and financial support.

There was consensus on the key role of the tripartite partners of the ILO in determining the worst forms of child labour, designing and implementing programmes of action and designating monitoring mechanisms to facilitate implementation of the Convention.

There was, however, some disagreement about indicating the role of other concerned groups, such as non-governmental organizations, child rights advocates and various professionals, in the Convention. Reference to such other concerned groups has been limited to points in the Recommendation. The proposed Recommendation provides further guidelines for the contents of the programmes of action called for in the Convention. Guidance is also provided on how to determine the types of work or activity which, by their nature or the circumstances in which they are carried out, are likely to jeopardize the health, safety or morals of children.

The Committee also retained a provision in the proposed Recommendation calling on Members to prosecute their nationals for crimes resulting from violations of provisions on the elimination of the worst forms of child labour, even for such crimes committed in another country. This then is a brief summary of the report of the Committee and the conclusions it proposes. Let me take this opportunity to express again my sincere appreciation to the Officers of the Committee and to the Office for all the hard work and dedication to the task before us.

I sincerely hope that we have succeeded in fulfilling our mandate and I commend the reports and the proposed conclusions of the Committee to this session of ILO Conference for adoption. I am confident that Members will adopt the resolution to place child labour on the agenda of the 1999 International Labour Conference.

Mr. SEMRAV (Employers' delegate, South Africa) -- I bring the apologies of Mr. Botha, Employer Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on Child Labour, who as we adopt this Report will undoubtedly be boarding an aeroplane. I told Mr. Botha that I would be able to deliver his speech, perhaps even with some of the emotion that he has put into it. I also told him, however, that I could not deliver this presentation with the same accent that he so interestingly brings to the English language.

We have not gone as far as the children from the Global March. The end of their journey, here in this hall, marked the beginning of ours. We have certainly taken the first steps towards the goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour. On behalf of the Employers' group of the Committee on Child Labour, I would like to express our satisfaction at the outcome of the discussions that we have had at this session of the International Labour Conference in the course of the last two weeks, as reflected in the Report that is now before us for adoption. When we began our deliberations, we realized that we had the attention of the international community. In particular, we knew the attention of some of the children was focused on us and we could not afford to fail in our task. In this regard, though, we have only taken the first steps. I believe we have made good progress in the right direction, which augurs well for the second round of discussions next year.

Having said that, I would like to mention that a number of issues of concern emerged during the discussions, to which I referred when this Report was being adopted in the Committee. I wish to reiterate them in this forum. Firstly, it is the Employers' view that any instrument we propose for adoption should be concise, simple, focused and realistic, so that it can be understood, accepted and supported by the widest possible audience. We also believe that a prerequisite for making the ILO credible is that its Conventions should be capable of being ratified by as many member States as possible. In respect of the proposed instruments on the worst forms of child labour, we are determined that they should be practical, flexible and applicable immediately in both the developing and developed world. We will continue to promote these views during the second round of discussions next year.

Secondly, and here my remarks are specific to the subject, we believe that a fundamental premise is that we should recognize the distinction between the concept of child labour in the broad sense of the term and that of the worst forms of child labour. In formulating the proposed instruments, we should never lose sight of the fact that they are intended to deal with the worst forms of child labour only. So if we end up with confusing or diluted definitions and impractical requirements, we will make implementation impossible and ratification difficult. In this context, we would caution against the introduction of articles or terms from the Minimum Age Convention No. 138, (1973) into the proposed Convention, which could make the new Convention unattractive for ratification by member States which have not yet ratified Convention No. 138. We must remain determined to immediately halt these worst forms of child labour, which no child should be or should have been permitted to perform. Children must not be bought or sold, or placed in work which hurts, mains or kills them. We must commit ourselves to end this abuse of the world's greatest resource in every member State, and not just in the highly developed nations.If even one member State does not ratify the Convention, we shall have failed in our task.

In particular, we are concerned that the definition of the child in the proposed Convention and the paragraph which refers to "access to free basic education" may pose problems for a number of developing countries. Member States will need to examine the practical, legal and economic implications for them of what is being proposed in the Convention, and we would encourage them to do so before we resume the debate next year. The Employers' group was clear in its support for defining children, for the purposes of this Convention, as those people under the age of 18 years. This support was dependent on a clear definition of the "worst forms of child labour". The definition we have agreed upon is clear. It lists internationally agreed worst forms and, where judgement is required, a national tripartite process has been agreed upon to take up the decisions.

We had an excellent debate about the relationship between the worst forms of child labour and the provision of education. The Employers' group strongly supports the provision of education for all. However, this is a complex issue. Is work which prevents children from receiving education defined as a worst form of child labour? It is tempting to agree. Formulations which propose access to education raise the practical fact that many countries are still too poor to guarantee universal access to education. If access to education is not available to all children in all countries, discussions which propose free and basic education, that is, 8 years of education, may be impractical. Member States must distinguish between the laudable objective of providing free basic education and the obligations which a statement in the Convention may bring.

We have said many times that the text of the Preamble is being made too long, with far too many references to other ILO Conventions, which would make it difficult for a layperson to read and understand it.

Finally, the Employers' group will examine all references to "time-bound" implementation. If the introduction of this concept could lead to anything less than the immediate removal of children from the worst forms of child labour, we will wish to revise it.

In addition to the specific issues mentioned above we have signalled other issues during the deliberations in the Committee.

In this regard we are glad that we will have another opportunity next year to modify positions if it is warranted. It makes us feel optimistic that at the next round of discussions in June 1999 we will be able to overcome some of the potential hurdles in the path of universal ratification.

Notwithstanding these concerns, I would like to express my satisfaction at the high quality of the debate that we held over the last two weeks, as well as the good spirit in which it was conducted, despite the fact that we were dealing with differing group and country perceptions as well as positions on the subject. It was also very heartening to see the willingness to compromise on issues, some of which are particularly sensitive in a number of countries. I believe we now have a set of conclusions which provides the basis for the preparation of the texts of a Convention and Recommendation. It is also my firm belief that all of us, Governments, Workers and Employers, have the desire and the will to produce a set of instruments on the worst forms of child labour, which must receive universal ratification.

All that remains for me now is once again to thank all those who have contributed to the work of our Committee and the good results that we were able to achieve. Firstly, my compliments and thanks to my counterpart on the Worker bench, Mr. Leroy Trotman, who is a fine orator, both humorous and serious. Furthermore, he displayed the willingness to be flexible to arrive at a consensus. We were able to deal with difficult issues constructively. I would also like to thank the Governments for their active involvement in the discussions and their cooperation, without which we could not have achieved the results that we obtained thus far. I know that this will continue when we sit together again in the coming year. A special word of thanks is due to our Chairperson, Mr. Atsain, who conducted the proceedings admirably and gave all speakers the full opportunity to expound their views. He is a skilled moderator and arbitrator, which are necessary requirements in the newly reformed ILO process. Finally, I would also like to convey my thanks to Mr. Assefa Bequele and his colleagues who worked untiringly both on and behind the scenes to provide an exceptional basis for discussion and the valuable secretarial services without which our task would have been impossible. I am sure we can expect the same high standards from them next year.

I would now like to conclude my remarks by commending this report for adoption by the Conference.

Mr. TROTMAN (Workers' delegate, Barbados; Worker Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on Child Labour) -- Mr. Botha has again made a presentation which, by its very character, would command significant debate and response, but I would choose not to do that for two reasons. One is that he himself is not here. Having been ready to make his presentation as he had hoped earlier this morning, he was unfortunately denied the opportunity to finish what, from my point of view, was an excellent bit of work on his part. The second reason is that, were we to attempt to answer Mr. Botha you would have to spend the rest of the evening here in this room and I do not think it would be fair either to the President or to the rest of us who have been here very patiently throughout the day.

The Workers' group wishes to thank everyone for the universal support expressed so far for an instrument which will have the elimination of the worst forms of child labour as its immediate objective and which will be the first step in a new initiative to bring about the elimination of all child labour.

The Workers' group wishes, however, to make a plea that we should not treat our work as an accomplishment but rather should see it as a means to an end. If we do not seek to have bread, freedom and peace for all, then we will be failing the children, many of whom took over this room just two weeks ago. Not just the children, but all other children, like your children, mine and those of all the other privileged persons sitting in this hall today. Those children want to bring an end to the deceit and hypocrisy, the inhumanity and double standards which they see and experience around them every day of their lives. They wish to have respect for and confidence in those societies in which we, as their parents and their leaders, require them to grow and function and be well-adjusted citizens.

The Workers' group therefore considers that action plans should be set in motion without delay. Plans designed to demonstrate to all communities, but especially to the children concerned, that the objective of eliminating child labour is not a subject for excuses or for cheap rationalizations but rather for clear, effective and transparent efforts to achieve the goals set down in the instrument.

We have in another place expressed some sympathy for those countries which have pointed to poverty as the reason for their failure to date to eliminate child labour. We wish, however, to stress that poverty ought no longer to be used as an excuse for failure to eliminate the worst forms. What is meant by the worst forms of child labour is clearly defined and should be dealt with even before the instrument gets to its second reading next year.

During the Committee level discussions, many Governments called for international support in tackling the scourge of child labour. The Workers' group has a few thoughts regarding how this support may be actualized.

In the first place, those who would seek increased cooperation internationally should as a precondition for the granting of such support demonstrate that they have taken and are taking serious steps to arrest the problem. We may otherwise have the contradiction of seeing relatively wealthy countries expanding their gross domestic product on esoteric activities or on action geared to perpetuating the privileged status of the few while they at the same time they hold out their palms for international dollar support.

Secondly, both the ILO itself and those generous governments which have been assisting, or plan to do so, should take note of the call of those countries for technical cooperation to help them address the scourge which no one has any defence for. The Workers' group feels that assistance with technical cooperation must have universal, clearly defined objectives and that these should include: (1) the elimination of the worst forms of child labour; (2) the rehabilitation of victims; (3) their education and/or vocational training; and (4) the employment of their parents or guardians.

We have recognized that in many countries where there is child labour there is, at the same time, significant unemployment among adults. Our call for technical cooperation is therefore made to address the poverty question, bearing two things in mind: (1) the United Nations clearly stated recommendation that prosperity objectives must be pursued together with an insistence on justice for all; and (2) the ILO's own measure of those sentiments in the fundamental credo that poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere. We will, through some of the members of the Workers' group, hear our experience regarding the implication for us all of the highly successful Global March and we will offer some focused views on the value and significance of education in providing for the better society which most of us seek. We shall also list a challenge: let all those who have influence and who wield power in their communities exercise the requisite political will to achieve the objectives of the Convention which is under consideration.

Let it suffice for me to say that this instrument provides us with an excellent opportunity to redeem ourselves and to improve the image which the ILO has within the global community. There are two particular attitudes or images which are painful. The first one is the question: "The ILO -- what is it? Is it some acronym for some new household merchandise? If it is, I am not interested." The second image is no better than the first: "The ILO -- do you mean that useless, outdated Geneva-based talk-shop which used to meet to offer incremental adjustments to workers in return for their unswerving commitment to unbridled capitalism." Those who make the latter observation point to the fact that since the end of the Cold War those same incremental adjustments, sometimes euphemistically referred to as workers' rights, are under serious threat and many have been wiped out or otherwise undermined.

Let me hasten to say that the Workers' group does not support either of these two points of views. We may be idle dreamers, but we dare to hope for the dawning of a brighter day for the world, a day when there will be in each community the freedom for all which we value and claim for ourselves and access by all to the education we want for our own children, a day when the wealth of the world will be harnessed for the common good rather than for the privileged few.

This year the Workers' group has directed me to record its sincere thanks and respect for the excellent atmosphere which characterized our discussions during the debate we have had on the worst forms of child labour. Mr. Botha and his Employers' group were outstanding. The Government benches were quite positive and some contributions were invaluable. Our Workers' group did our best and we were honoured to serve on the Committee. In my estimation -- and I have said it elsewhere -- this Workers' group was the best anywhere, any time.

The non-governmental organizations should be complimented on the work they have done so far and, in anticipation, for their work on the follow-up in years to come.

Finally, the Chairman of our Committee, Minister Atsain from the Côte d'Ivoire, the Officers and the staff of the ILO and the entire support staff have our sincerest thanks. It has been a difficult task, a challenging but rewarding task, and the Workers' group commends the report to you.

Original French: Mr. ATSAIN (Minister of Employment, Public Service and Social Welfare, Côte d'Ivoire; Chairperson of the Committee on Child Labour) -- I am extremely honoured today to be given this opportunity to address the plenary of the International Labour Conference as Chairperson of the Committee on Child Labour. For me and my country, Côte d'Ivoire, it was a great privilege to have been selected to chair the work of this Committee, which should lead to the adoption next year of new instruments on the most extreme forms of child labour.

When I accepted the honour I felt confident that we would have a very constructive debate. I must confess, however, that the outcome of the Committee's discussions has widely exceeded my expectations. Reflecting the seriousness of the issue, the Committee held a dignified, focused and high-level debate, driven by the commitment to achieve a breakthrough in the fight against child labour. There was a large measure of agreement on most points and a strong will to arrive at a consensus.

Two weeks ago, we received the Global March against Child Labour in this room. It was greeted with a standing ovation. Most of us were deeply moved by the children from all over the world who gave us the strong and unmistakable message that child labour has to brought to an end. I believe the Committee made a very important step towards this goal by adopting proposed conclusions with a view to a Convention supplemented by a Recommendation on the worst forms of child labour.

The outcome of the discussions and the substance of the proposed new instruments have already been clearly and adequately reported to you by Ms. Melkas. I do not wish to repeat what has been so skilfully and articulately presented. However, I would like to highlight three important and fundamental aspects of the texts adopted by the Committee.

First the proposed conclusions you have before you are concise and establish fundamental principles, facilitating wide ratification. Second, by placing emphasis on the prohibition and immediate elimination of the worst forms of child labour, they complement the Minimum Age Convention, No. 138 (1973), which remains the fundamental instrument for the abolition of child labour. Lastly, the new instruments stress the importance of international cooperation to eliminate the worst forms of child labour. Only by working together and joining our forces will we be able to definitively eradicate that scourge on mankind.

I am confident that you will adopt the proposed conclusions with a view to a Convention and Recommendation. Their adoption would be a decisive step in the global effort to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.

Finally, as Chairperson, I would like to express my appreciation and thanks to the members of the secretariat, including the interpreters and translators, the Vice-Chairpersons, the members of the Committee, the Director-General of the ILO, and the President of the Conference. Let us keep alive this moment and look forward to the next session of the Conference, at which the hope that our children have placed in ILO will be fulfilled when the new instruments will be adopted.

Original French: The PRESIDENT -- I now open the general discussion on the report of the Committee on Child Labour.

Mr. AHMED (Workers' delegate, Pakistan). On behalf of the Workers' delegation of Pakistan, it is a privilege for me to welcome the report of the Committee on Child Labour and the elimination of its worst forms. This report contains a draft proposed Convention and Recommendation which have been adopted by the Committee. We appreciate the work done by the Chairperson, the two Vice-Chairpersons and the Reporter, particularly by our comrade Mr. Trotman, a Workers' representative and Worker member in the Committee. We also appreciate the contribution and the assistance of Mr. Ali Taqi, Assistant Director-General, and the representative of the Director-General, Mr. Bequele, Chief of the Working Conditions and Environment Department, along with his staff.

Children are our future and our posterity. They have every right to demand not only from their family, from society, but also from humankind as a whole that they be afforded equal opportunity in terms of mental, physical and spiritual development. As we have found there are still 250 million children who are victims of the abuse of child labour -- children who are our future and posterity. Therefore, the abuse of child labour, particularly the worst forms of child labour with which this Committee has dealt, must be abolished at the earliest possible moment.

We are about to cross the threshold into the twenty-first century where peace, prosperity, freedom and social justice must prevail in all parts of the world, but we still find children who are victims of slavery and debt bondage and forced to engage in hazardous work due to poverty and lack of care on the part of society. Therefore, the proposed Convention and Recommendation rightly stress that we must take immediate measures to abolish these evils, not only through effective legislation but effective enforcement with the cooperation of workers' and employers' organizations, by providing children with basic education and helping them to reintegrate into society. National action must go hand in hand with the political will of respective governments to allocate more resources for basic education because poverty, wherever it may strike, constitutes a danger to prosperity, and children tend only to work because their parents are poor. Children must not be left at the mercy of the scourge of child labour which is a crime against humanity. Whether children are from a poor family or a rich family, nature has been kind to all without discrimination, the difference is in equality of opportunity in society. Poor children are like flowers in the forest -- they bloom but nobody sees their beauty, nobody appreciates them. Therefore, the children of the poor live in a state of fear of society. Therefore, more resources are needed. At the same time, international action is required, as is technical cooperation, which has been stressed in the proposed Recommendation. This kind of programme has proved quite useful to developing countries. In my own country, there has been a successful project on the manufacture of footballs, in cooperation with the Government, employers' and workers' organizations. We will certainly ask the ILO to extend these activities and also urge the international community, particularly the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, to develop a policy whereby additional resources are allocated to developing countries. At present, the international financial system is seeing in South Asia how the countries there have suffered from the lack of international financial control.

The 1994 World Bank report points out that the most severely indebted countries spend almost 80 per cent of GNP on debt servicing. It calls on rich nations to transfer net resources to developing countries so they can deploy more resources for their children's education.

With these remarks, I would ask that we here demonstrate our commitment to our future posterity. Children, in particular in developing countries, will fully support the adoption of this report containing the important proposed Convention and Recommendation.

I wish to thank the President and his colleagues and representatives of the Secretary-General and Director-General and wish all delegates a safe journey home and continued success in their noble work in their respective countries for the benefit of both children and other working men and women.

Ms. NOONAN (Workers' delegate, New Zealand) -- I stand to recommend adoption of the report of the Committee on Child Labour, and in doing so I salute the children and young people of the global march.

Their determination to awaken the world from its ignorance and apathy regarding the obscenity that is child labour was, without doubt, the single most important factor in the very significant progress made this year by Governments, Employers and Workers on the development of a new Convention and Recommendation aimed at eliminating the worst forms of child labour.

As our Reporter has so beautifully said, those children succeeded in motivating and mobilizing all of us. Their faces, their voices, their stories were a constant presence in our deliberations.

Thanks to them, we can stand here today before you with a very rare product -- a text reached entirely by consensus. Not a single record vote was taken, and yet the text is stronger and more effective than the original Office draft. And, as a New Zealander, I take particular pleasure in the fact that this is a Convention which my Government supports and which I hope it will also eventually ratify.

The leadership and skills of our Committee Chairperson -- Mr. Atsain of Côte d'Ivoire -- were outstanding. We all learned a lot from him about the art of chairing contentious negotiations, and there are one or two trouble spots around the world which I feel sure could do with his services. But we on the Workers' benches want him back next year.

He was superbly supported by the Worker and Employer Vice-Chairpersons. I thank the three of them. Also, the Office and Mr. Bequele and his team, and support from the ICFTU which we could not have done without.

The slogan of the global march was simple and stark: "from exploitation to education". In the proposed Convention, we have made progress in keeping faith with this objective. However, as you will have gathered from the speeches of the reporter and the Employer Vice-Chairperson, the place of education in the new Convention is not yet fully resolved. There are two distinct issues. Firstly, should the definition of the worst forms of child labour include any type of work or activity which is likely to jeopardize not only the health, safety or morals of children, but also likely to jeopardize their access to basic education? Secondly, should reference be made to the importance of access to free basic education in the section dealing with programmes of action?

There are two key questions. Will inclusion of "access to basic education" in the definition widen the scope of the Convention excessively? Will reference to "access to free, basic education" under programmes of action impose too heavy a resource burden on ratifying member States? To both questions the Workers' group in the Committee has answered a resounding no!

At this stage in the development of the Convention we have been able to achieve reference to "access to free, basic education" in Article 14 dealing with "necessary measures to ensure its effective implementation and enforcement". And that is vital. Although we are focusing in these instruments on the worst forms of child labour only, as the priority for national action, the evidence is now overwhelming: while access to education alone is insufficient to eliminate child labour, including the worst forms, there can be no lasting eradication of any kind of child labour without it. Without an holistic approach to prevention, removal, rehabilitation and social reintegration, we will simply continue to allow children to be subjected to more or less damaging forms of child labour.

As to the issue of insufficient resources, the evidence is again conclusive: the cost of not providing universal, quality, relevant, compulsory and free basic education far outweighs the price of doing so. It is time we counted the cost of not doing so. The damage is not only to the children who are denied education, but to their families, to their communities and to the economic and social development of their whole nations.

Nationally and internationally, we must find the resources to ensure every child has access to basic education. Yet, at the same time, in the context of this Convention we are focusing only on those children at risk or involved in the worst forms of child labour, so the resource implications are relatively limited. The November 1997 Oslo Agenda for Action is a practical guide for both national action and international cooperation.

We did not succeed this year in achieving reference to "access to basic education" in the definition of the worst forms of child labour. But the Workers' group made it clear, as did a number of Governments, that we will come back to this issue next year. The issue here is not provision; the inclusion of this reference in the definition is not intended to place any obligation on member States to provide access. Rather, it would add one further criterion to be used in the national processes established under Article 11 of the draft Convention to help determine and identify the worst forms of child labour.

And I bring to your attention the comments made by the Swedish Government representative in the Committee, which appear in paragraph 162 of the report. And I will quote the Government representative of Uruguay who also advocated the inclusion of education. She asked whether we were really saying that in a situation where basic education is available, work which prevents a child from attending school, a school which is available, is not a worst form?

Systematically denying a child access to basic education condemns that child to a lifetime of poverty and destitution, to a future without hope or prospects, to the myriad ills that are the fate of the poorest of poor in our world. It is hard to think of anything worse. With the rapidly developing globalized economy and constantly changing technologies, lifelong learning is no longer desirable, it is absolutely essential.

I will finish with another reference to the children of the Global March who have been our inspiration of these three weeks. Thanks to them, for the first time in many years, ordinary men and women and young people around the world have become aware of the ILO and of the significance of its international labour standards.

This Convention could be easily ratifiable but merely symbolic, a meaningless ineffectual gesture or, as we have begun to do this year, we can create something that is strong and effective and that will indeed be the catalyst for a successful worldwide effort to eliminate child labour. If we aim for that, then we will have demonstrated, for the first time, that the forces of globalization can be harnessed as the Worker Vice-Chairperson said "not just for the benefit of the privileged few, but for all humanity, and especially for the poorest, and especially for our children, and in doing so we will be assuring the ILO a relevant, meaningful and credible role at the start of the twenty-first century".

Mr. STEYNE (Workers' delegate, United Kingdom) -- It is a pleasure and an honour for me, on behalf of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, which represents seven million trade unionists in Britain, to commend the report of the Committee on Child Labour to the Conference.

I am proud to do so, because the TUC, the oldest national trade union centre in the world, has campaigned against child labour since it was established in 1868. Indeed, only recently we produced a report on the work of school-aged children in Britain -- much of it illegal.

First let me say a few words of thanks. The work of our Committee was conducted with goodwill and with good humour from all sides. That was due, in no small part, to the excellent work of the ILO Office, in particular Mr. Bequele and Ms. Jankanisch and their team, the congenial and effective chairing by Minister Atsain, and the positive and a cooperative work of Mr. Botha, the Employer Vice-Chairperson. But I must also pay a special tribute to the Workers' group, and the support given us by ACTRAV and Tim Noonan from the ICFTU. This was a superb group of colleagues. In particular, our work was facilitated by our Chair, Brother Leroy Trotman, who led us with a firm hand, tempered, as ever, by charm, wit and a passion to promote the interests of the world's children, especially those to whom our work was addressed: the millions of children suffering in the worst forms of child labour.

We are drafting very special instruments, special because they address the greatest social scourge of our time, and special because the Convention will be both a human rights Convention and a Convention which will require practical action.

That means it will require the allocation of resources by governments. We regret that we were unable to obtain consensus to include clear references to the responsibility of the Bretton Woods institutions -- and other relevant international institutions -- to uphold the aims of the Convention. We all know that structural adjustment programmes have, in many countries, led to a reduction in social expenditure and to an increase in the incidence of child labour, including its worst forms.

We were also dismayed when, early in our debate, the representative of one government announced that it could not ratify the Convention as proposed. We understand that poverty is -- in the words of the Oslo Declaration -- both a cause and a consequence of child labour. But poverty cannot be blamed on the poor. Trade unionists around the world do not accept the excuses of wealthy elites, north or south, who send their children to the best universities in the world, but claim they do not have the resources to provide even basic education for the rest.

That is all the more true when those elites divert even more funds from education and health to fuel the ultimate folly of a nuclear arms race, which threatens to annihilate not only their neighbours' children, but their own children too.

Of course, resources are an issue but a far greater issue is political will. No progress can be made without it -- and we all know of poor countries, or poor regions of poor countries, which have made principled decisions to devote scarce resources to providing free and universal education -- and have, as a result, eliminated child labour.

We were privileged this year to have the presence in Geneva of the Global March against Child Labour and I recall the moving speech made by my friend, an American Worker colleague, Chuck Gray, when he presided over the Conference in our 75th anniversary year. Paraphrasing the words of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Chuck said he had a dream. A dream that, one day, the doors of this great hall would be flung open, and the working children of the world would march down the central aisle, crying "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, free at last."

Well, they are not yet free but they came to Geneva this year with an unmistakable message for us all -- governments, employers and trade unions. "Children in school, adults in work, exploiters in gaol. Education, not exploitation."

At one point in our discussion, a government asked how hidden forms of child labour, in which so many girls are enslaved, could be uncovered. The answer from the workers was this: through the torchlight of political will.

We have kindled that torch this year. By the time we meet again, it must be a blazing beacon for the governments, employers and trade unions of the world.

Trade unionists throughout the world stand shoulder to shoulder with the children of the Global March. We ask you all to rally to a great tripartite coalition, a coalition that can, at last, put an end to the suffering of children in the worst forms of child labour. A coalition to carry that fight forward, to ensure, as we enter the new millennium, the inalienable right to childhood to every child in the world.

The road to the suffering and enslavement of children in the worst forms of child labour has been designed by social injustice and paved with indifference. The road to their freedom can, in part, be designed by the new instruments we are developing, but it must be paved with political will.

I commend the report to the Conference.

Ms. MENON (Workers' adviser Malaysia) -- I came here almost three weeks ago to attend the 86th Session of the International Labour Conference as a Workers' delegate. I am a worker from an Asian developing country, Malaysia -- I came full of hope and optimism.

The 86th Session looked set to be an especially significant session for workers and worker organizations. Being involved in the Committee on Child Labour seemed to me like being involved in a major effort to improve the quality of life of workers and their families worldwide.

At the end of the third week, the tripartite group made the first commitment to a Convention. This Convention has boosted the morale of the workers as we have achieved more than many people thought we would.

Yet, I have no sense of elation as there is to be a second discussion next year to firm up and formalize the Convention. This means that we are now in a state of being midway. This also means that the children are still kept in the worst forms of labour and in forms of slavery. Therefore, it is important that in this room we should start the exercise of righting a wrong before the next millennium. The chant of the children of Switzerland "Do us a favour, stop child labour" should not remain just a slogan.

I was very impressed by the cooperation and strength of the relationship among the workers in my Committee. This could have been only because there were so many women delegates who added to the atmosphere of purpose in the meetings. Those who did not speak nodded their heads and clapped and offered complete encouragement while pushing for reforms, especially on the prohibition and immediate elimination of the worst forms of child labour.

In my country, Malaysia, there is access to compulsory and free education up to "O" level. To ensure that the children remain in school, and as an inducement, my country has removed some of the major selective exams and lowered pass-marks. The truancy officers are also strict. This is to ensure that children are not exploited. Yet, the draw to earn a few dollars more as pocket money is an intoxicant and there are many young school drop-outs who choose to work. They are employed by the unorganized and informal sector, that is, they wait on tables at restaurants or they work invisibly as domestic helpers. Only when they reach adulthood do they realize that they lack education and therefore can only continue to work for less than minimum wages and that, too, in temporary jobs. Then starts the familiar lament that they are economically imbalanced and that they are deprived. Here, I realize that as a member of a workers' organization, I have my work cut out for me when I go back. I only realized the importance of education and how it can enhance one's economic background and integrity after attending the many meetings here and listening to the strong arguments for access to education for children. It is true -- an adult feels shame to start learning his alphabet, and it becomes too late. He then continues his frustrated lifestyle and as he had not received a helping hand from his country, he refuses to consider changes for his own children.

We spout the age-old cliches of the "The child is father to the man" and "Children are the future and prosperity of our nation". Do we really want uneducated, exploited children as our future leaders and role models? Or again, are we being selective and only allowing a privileged few to receive education and be the leaders of tomorrow?

Most of the developed and developing countries are concerned about the millennium bug which will attack at midnight on 31 December 1999. Huge budget provisions are being made to improve information technology and to save data and preserve records. Yet, something so basic and decent as allowing children to have a childhood and access to education is put on a time-bound programme. Why is the issue of child labour being treated as a traditional and cultural right and why has it become an irritant when raised? Are people afraid of change? It cannot be. We adults have given voting rights to women. We adults have agreed to equal pay for equal work done. We have made big strides in the field of medicine and hygiene. We have opened space explorations and man has walked on the moon; we called it a "big step for mankind". We preserve artifacts and buildings of historical value and we have beefed up our defence systems and widened our boundaries and borders. We have set aside huge projects and budgets towards these works. Yet, 250 million children between the ages of five and 14 are either working full-time or part-time. Meeting the children from the Global March not only stirred up strong instincts among the women delegates, but to a very large extent made us more resolved to play an important role in firming up a Convention which can be ratified by all the countries of the world. It made us see the need and importance of education for these children so that they can remain children until they reach the age of 18, so that they can be protected by their parents and national legislatures. And after that, they can choose to go to university or to work. They are no longer children at 18 and therefore can demand the minimum wage. They can be organized and belong to workers' organizations. Most of all, they cannot be exploited as cheap and available labour.

Original Spanish: Mr. PRETI JORQUIN (Employers' delegate, Guatemala) -- As well as congratulating you on the considerable work that has been done in the course of the last few weeks in Geneva, I also hope that the results of this Conference will help to improve labour relations in our respective countries.

At the very time when the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Freedom of Association Convention (No. 87) are both 50 years old, we are on the point of adopting a document which will be a foundation for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour as well. This is one of the major objectives of the International Labour Organization.

This document includes definitions and references to necessary and effective measures to attain our objective. Child labour exists in many countries. In some countries it takes relatively acceptable forms, while in others, the forms it takes are absolutely intolerable. We will be adopting a document which has been conscientiously prepared and will provide a basis for further discussion in which we will need to think in terms of realistic legislation, legislation which will be applicable to all countries. The differences between developed and developing countries, for example, are really quite substantial and they must be duly taken into account when it comes to preparing the instrument in its final form.

In many developing countries, such as mine, there are children who do dangerous types of work for excessive hours and the situation affects their physical and mental development. The causes of the situation are very varied, and include extreme poverty, social marginalization and low family income. There are of course other causes as well.

Many representatives of developing countries have been telling us that poverty is not the sole cause, but this does not absolve them of their responsibilities towards developing countries, to open up their markets and give us opportunities of access to finance and technology which will help us to raise our incomes.

Of course, the Convention addresses genuinely difficult issues such as the minimum age, the description and definition of the worst forms of child labour and appropriate sanctions. These are subjects on which more work will need to be done during the year before we get to the second reading of the Convention.

Adopting a Convention like this and ratifying it immediately is in fact only one step among the many which will have to be taken to deal with this problem. Countries have to start implementing codes of conduct, taking novel initiatives, developing education and human resource development programmes so as to at least start to tackle the most serious reasons which lie in the majority of cases behind the phenomenon of child labour.

We would like this issue to continue to be one of the utmost priority in the International Labour Organization. We think a lot of statistics need to be collected and analysed if we are to avoid mistakes. This world needs healthy men and women who are well trained and educated, who can create sources of employment and protect the environment. If we can eliminate the worst forms of child labour, which damage children physically and mentally, those objectives will be achieved.

Child labour, far from declining, has actually been increasing. It has to be dealt with hand in hand with other serious issues such as high rates of population growth, irresponsible parenting, and perhaps also the problem of income in larger families. These problems appear to have triggered a chain reaction to which we do not yet see an end. The work being done at this Conference should be followed throughout the world in every member State. Tripartite action, and not only in the form of government standard setting, is needed in all the ILO member States if we are finally to eradicate this scourge.

We believe that each and every one of us who have participated in this Committee had our convictions strengthened by the Global March against Child Labour. This was an important step on the long road which we have to travel, perhaps just the start of a long battle which we hope one day to win.

Adoption of this Convention and Recommendation is, as I have said, only the first step. We should waste no time, because time is something the children do not have. We must proceed to adopt the instruments as soon as possible and implement whatever measures are necessary.

Mr. WILD (Employers' delegate, United Kingdom) -- This is not the first time I have had the opportunity to address this body. Over the last ten years I have worked with the Employers on the subjects of hotels and restaurants, part-time work, home work and contract labour. On the previous occasions that I have stood on this platform my task has been to persuade this group not to adopt what we considered to be inappropriate and ill-considered Conventions. Some of you may recall that on these occasions I sometimes made fairly lengthy presentations. Well, today, I am pleased to say, marks a sharp contrast.

First, my intervention is to commend to you the report on the worst forms of child labour as an excellent basis for next year's discussion. It is wholeheartedly supported by the Employers' group.

Second, my intervention will be a short one. I will make only a few brief remarks. The task of the Committee on Child Labour was made much easier by the Office, which prepared an excellent piece of work on the basis of which our discussions could progress. In fact there were times when the attempts of the Committee to improve the text resulted in our saying what the Office had already suggested but in a much less elegant way. I am sure that when we review and change things next year, as Committees always feel compelled to do, we may well return to some of the language originally proposed by the Office. Congratulations to Mr. Bequele and his team.

The Committee reached an early and important consensus agreement that we were not trying to duplicate or supersede the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138). We agreed that the new instrument on the worst forms of child labour was exactly what its title suggests, a first but fundamental step on a longer journey. It will be important that we maintain this view next year.

In the early discussions some concerns were expressed that the proposed Convention on the worst forms of child labour might become redundant over time. I can say from the Employers' perspective that the sooner this Convention becomes redundant through the elimination of the most unacceptable forms of child labour defined in the draft, the happier we shall all be.

There were of course certain areas where the Employers, the Governments and the Workers did not agree and certain areas where we made textual improvements or took decisions which we all know we will have to work on next year. You will have noted this afternoon some significant difference between us on the subject of education. This issue is perhaps the one with the most potential to undermine our work next year and we need to struggle hard to maintain the current position. The differences are, however, surprisingly few and it is noteworthy that the Committee did not once have to resort to a formal vote in coming to the preliminary conclusions before you.

In closing, let me congratulate the Chairperson of the Committee, Mr. Atsain, the Worker Vice-Chairperson, LeRoy Trotman, and the Employer Vice-Chairperson, Mr. Botha, who steered the Committee to an excellent conclusion when it would have been so easy to go off the rails. The Convention, which I am sure we will adopt next year, will be an important one for the ILO, for employers, workers and governments around the world, but most importantly for those children currently engaged in what we have defined as the worst forms of child labour.

I would make three final points. First, it is important that we continue next year in the spirit that we left this year. Second, it will be intolerable if the immediate level of ratification of this new Convention does not surpass by a considerable margin the total ratifications of all of the ILO Conventions adopted in recent years. Finally, we should all be reminded that we need not wait for this Convention to be adopted next year before we start to work on delivering its objectives.

Mr. SINGH (Government adviser, India) -- The issue before us, which is the consideration of an ILO Convention on extreme forms of child labour is a very important one. It also sometimes becomes an emotional issue, but I think I shall try to abide by your guidance and endeavour to be as brief and constructive as possible.

My Government is committed to the full eradication of all forms of child labour wherever it might exist in my country, beginning with the most exploited, even hazardous forms and has adopted this goal as part of national policy.

Two years ago, my delegation extended its full support to the proposal for a Convention on extreme forms of child labour. This year we have participated in a constructive manner in the discussions in the Committee on the initial draft prepared by the Office. The report before us for adoption summarizes the results of this first discussion. While we can go along with this report and its adoption, we would like to place on record our views on some of the important issues which were debated in this Committee as well as the conclusions contained in the report.

We find the final outcome of the discussion somewhat disappointing, we believe that the need of the hour is for a practical Convention which is focused, obtains universal support and can be ratified as well as implemented by all Governments. The text of some of the key elements which are included in the conclusions of the Committee fall short of these requirements. Specifically, we would like to draw attention to four aspects which are as follows.

First, the text repeatedly calls for the immediate elimination of the worst forms of child labour. While all governments can and must take immediate measures for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour we must ensure that the goals we pursue are not merely laudable, but are also realistic. Some of the worst forms of child labour are manifestations deeply rooted in poverty, parental unemployment and parental illiteracy and no society can eliminate them overnight or merely legislate them away, even with the best political will. We must also keep in mind the fact that sometimes precipitate action to eradicate child labour can drive children into greater destitution. We agree that poverty cannot justify denial of human rights but it is also essential to address the above issues with sensitivity if we are to promote or to achieve remedies and results that are durable.

Second, we therefore believe that any substantive Convention on the worst forms of child labour cannot ignore the poverty dimension of the problem. During negotiations, my delegation moved amendments based on agreed language from the resolution on child labour adopted by the Conference in 1996. We regret that our social partners could not agree to this and hope that they will reflect on this aspect and reconsider their stance.

Third, the conclusions of the report set an age limit of 18 years for the application of the Convention. The definition of what constitutes the worst forms of child labour has also been spelt out in relatively broad terms. Unlike Convention No. 138, the text under consideration does not provide any exemptions and no special provision has been made for developing countries whose economies and educational facilities are insufficiently developed. At present the age for entering into employment in different countries varies from 15 to 18. Imposing an inflexible limit of 18 years accompanied by a very broad definition of what constitutes the worst forms of child labour may result in serious dislocations and oblige many young people between the ages of 15 and 18 to lose their employment without alternative opportunities for employment, education or social security. We therefore believe that the Convention must make provision for a flexible arrangement which permits the progressive raising of age limits to 18 years and that the definition of the worst forms of child labour should be precise, clear and focused.

Fourth, at present the reference to international cooperation is couched in somewhat vague and general language. The Convention imposes stringent obligations on countries where the worst forms of child labour are prevalent by asking them to eliminate immediately all such practices. At the same time, it fails to provide for any corresponding obligations on this Organization, or indeed the international community, which must be in a position to assist and support countries who are already doing their best to address the problem using their limited means. This is not to deny that the primary responsibility for eradicating extreme forms of child labour rests with the countries themselves, but only to say that, given the nature of the root causes of this problem, there must be an element of international solidarity that is inescapable, as well as the need for special efforts on the part of the Office.

In conclusion, matters of concern to my delegation have been raised this year and will be taken up again next year. We look forward to receiving more support and understanding during our deliberations next year. We are hopeful that consensus will eventually be reached on a practical, realistic and flexible approach to the complex issues raised by this phenomenon and the resulting Convention will be such that ratifications are facilitated and full implementation assured. My delegation will continue to make endeavours towards that end.

Mr. OWUOR (Employers' delegate, Kenya) -- The Chairman of the Committee deserves our gratitude for competently steering the work of the Committee to its successful conclusion.

The work of this Committee, as has been noted by various speakers, was preceded by a global march against child labour which culminated in this hall. The global march was such an emotive demonstration of support for the work of the Committee that it would have been a great let-down to all the participants in the walk, especially the children who braved inclement weather conditions to draw the world's attention to the scourge of child labour, if the Committee had failed to produce a consensus report on the elimination of child labour. My delegation supports the Committee's proposed definition of the worst forms of child labour, and its conclusion, but poverty should not be used as an excuse for involving children in the worst forms of child labour.

Apart from this qualification, my delegation accepts that poverty is the main cause of child labour and, therefore, unless poverty is wiped from the face of the earth, the scourge of child labour in one form or another will continue to afflict our societies for some time to come.

As a result of structural adjustment programmes, social expenditure, especially on education and health provision, has been declining, especially in the least developed countries, thereby creating a surge in drop-out rates amongst school-age children. Moreover, unemployment rates have outstripped population growth, while wars, social upheavals and natural disasters have added to the incidence of poverty, with serious consequences for the lives of our children.

Child labour can be abolished, but only with closer collaboration at the international level. The ILO has made a start in this regard through IPEC. Either more funds should therefore be made available to least developed countries by the international community, in particular to help them to strengthen educational and vocational training programmes, in order to provide viable alternatives to child labour. Unless this is done, we shall merely remove children from plantations and factories to the streets, where they would be exposed to even worse conditions, and involve them in criminal activities, child prostitution and drug-pushing to survive.

The current move, therefore, for the cancellation of the debt of the most indebted developing countries is a step in the right direction. However, countries need to be assisted in establishing specific programmes for child support. In this respect, the developed countries should increase their aid programmes to achieve at least the recommended UN minimum rate of 0.7 per cent of the GNP, provided that most of the additional funds are used by recipient countries for child-related programmes. It is only through this kind of international cooperation that the ideal of promoting access to free universal basic education proposed by this Committee can be achieved.

Subject to the above observations, my delegation supports the adoption of the Committee's report.

Mr. NKOSI (Government delegate, South Africa) -- My delegation, like those before me, wishes to express its profound appreciation to the secretariat, the Officers of the Conference and the Chairperson of the Committee on Child Labour, His Excellency the Minister from Côte d'Ivoire, Mr. Atsain, for their hard work and deep commitments over the past two-and-a-half weeks. The achievements and progress of the debate have been well reflected in the report we have before us. My delegation is of the firm opinion that many of the objectives set out at the opening of this session have been largely achieved. The Proposed Conclusions have provided us with a sound basis to facilitate future discussions in a focused manner.

It is clear to us that despite our many differences there is a wide consensus on the urgent need to eliminate child labour, in particular the worst forms of child labour, in all parts of the world. My delegation welcomes the inclusion of a reference to the use of children for illegal activities, in particular the production and trafficking of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. The extent and nature of this grave worldwide problem has been highlighted at a special session of the United Nations on the same subject at a meeting recently held in New York. Children have increasingly become the main targets in the trafficking and sale of such drugs.

On the question relating to education, my delegation strongly supports the inclusion of the importance of access to basic education in preventing children from engaging in the worst forms of child labour. This issue has been extensively discussed in the Committee and is accurately reflected in point 14(2) of the Proposed Conclusions.

Finally, my delegation urges all parties to the ILO to continue to review the progress achieved at this session so as to enable us to conclude and adopt this new instrument at the 87th Session of the International Labour Conference.

Original French: The PRESIDENT -- We have concluded the general discussion on this report and shall now proceed to the adoption of the report. First, I submit the body of the report for adoption -- that is paragraphs 1 to 336. If there are no objections, I shall take it that the body of the report is adopted.

(The report is adopted -- paragraphs 1 to 336.)

We will now proceed to the adoption of the conclusions proposed by the Committee. If there are no objections, I shall take it that the conclusions are adopted.

(The conclusions are adopted.)

Finally we come to the adoption of the resolution to place on the agenda of the next ordinary session of the Conference an item entitled "Child labour". May I take it that the resolution is adopted?

(The resolution is adopted.)

I would like to express my thanks to the members of the Committee, the Chairman, the Vice-Chairman and the Reporter for all the work they have done. The children who visited us on the first day of the Conference would probably not really understand the complications involved in the Conference's work, but I think that we have all taken a step in the right direction towards solving this very serious problem of the exploitation of children.

Updated by VC. Approved by RH. Last update: 26 January 2000.