GENEVA (ILO News) - International Labour Organization (ILO) member States today took a decisive step towards liberating scores of millions of children from slavery and debt bondage, prostitution and pornography, dangerous work and forcible recruitment for armed conflict.
In an unequivocal show of what ILO Director-General Juan Somavia called "moral resolve," the 174 States members of the ILO concluded the 87 th annual International Labour Conference here with the unanimous adoption of the "Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention 1999."
The new Convention applies to all persons under the age of 18 and calls for "immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency."
An accompanying Recommendation urges ratifying States to declare the worst forms of child labour criminal offences and impose penal sanctions on those who would perpetrate them.
"With this Convention, we now have the power to make the urgent eradication of the worst forms of child labour a new global cause," Mr. Somavia said. "This cause must be expressed, not in words, but deeds, not in speeches, but in policy and law. To those who exploit children, forcing them into slavery, debt bondage, prostitution, pornography or war, we are saying, Stop it, now!"
The ILO estimates that some 250 million children between the ages of five and 14 work in developing countries alone. About half, or some 120 million work full time, while the rest combine work and schooling. In some cases, nearly 70 per cent of these children are engaged in hazardous work. Of the 250 million children concerned, some 50-60 million between the ages of five and 11 are working in circumstances that could be termed hazardous considering their age and vulnerability.
A ratification campaign
Mr. Somavia announced that the ILO will immediately launch a worldwide campaign for ratification - the process by which the Convention is translated into national law and practice - through its International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) and other ILO departments. Many delegates who spoke at the Conference pledged early action for the ratification of the new Convention.
In addition, Mr. Somavia declared that the new Convention would become one of the ILO's "core Conventions" along with those concerning freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining; the elimination of forced or compulsory labour; non-discrimination in respect of employment and occupation; and, observance of a minimum age for employment.
These Conventions cover the fundamental principles and rights at work which were agreed upon by the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in March 1995, and were the subject of a solemn Declaration adopted by the International Labour Conference in June of last year with a follow-up procedure.
The new Convention reflects widespread recognition over the past years that there should be an immediate end to the worst forms of child labour. The ILO's Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) remains the bedrock of national and international action for the eventual total abolition of child labour. The number of ratifications has been increasing in recent years. As of today, 74 States had ratified Convention No. 138.
The new Convention and Recommendation
The new Convention defines for the first time what constitutes the "worst forms of child labour," and includes a ban on forced or compulsory recruitment of child soldiers. It calls for international cooperation on social and economic development, poverty eradication and education to realize its terms, and provides for broad consultation among governments, workers and employers - the "social partners" in the ILO's tripartite structure.
It defines the worst forms of child labour as: all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage, serfdom and forced or compulsory labour; forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; use of a child for prostitution, production of pornography or pornographic performances; use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs; and, work which is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.
The Convention requires ratifying States to "design and implement programmes of action" to eliminate the worst forms of child labour as a priority and "establish or designate appropriate mechanisms" for monitoring implementation of the Convention, in consultation with employers' and workers' organizations. It also says ratifying States should "provide support for the removal of children form the worst forms of child labour and their rehabilitation; ensure access to free basic education or vocational training for all children removed from the worst forms of child labour; identify children at special risk; and take into account the special situation of girls."
An accompanying Recommendation defines "hazardous work" as "work which exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse; work underground, under water, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces; work with dangerous machinery or tools, or which involves heavy loads; work in unhealthy environments which may expose children to hazardous substances, temperatures, noise or vibrations; and work under particularly difficult conditions such as long hours, during the night or where a child is confined to the premises of the employers."