KAMPALA (ILO News) – Delegates from 22 African countries called today on African countries to commit themselves to the total abolition of child labour as prescribed in the ILO Minimum Age Convention (No. 138, 1973) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. They identified poverty "as the fundamental cause of child labour" and called for "increased international assistance to attack poverty."
They also said that "the African Charter on the Rights of the Child should be ratified by all African countries" and called upon delegates to encourage their governments to do so.
In its Final Report, the Conference concluded that in light of the social and economic situation prevailing in Africa some children might be required to work in the medium and short term. However, the Report said that "the work should be regulated and should not endanger the health and safety of the child." In addition, the work should "combine protected work activities with some kind of education and social services."
The delegates – from governments, trade unions and employers' organizations – concluded that "priority should be given to the immediate suppression of extreme forms of child labour within time bound programmes of action."
The Conference participants, which included UNICEF and NGOs, identified extreme forms of child labour as activities that amount to outright human rights abuses, constituting grave threats to the health, safety, social and moral development of children. Examples of such debilitating activities include commercial sex work, unpaid domestic work and heavy labour in mines, quarries, factories and in agriculture. Participation of children in armed conflict and criminal activities were also condemned as being "socially unacceptable."
While insisting that "poverty should be attacked as the fundamental cause of child labour", the Final Report concluded that poverty is not the only cause, nor can it provide an excuse for inaction. It said that "universal primary education must be provided." Among the necessary preventive measures, the delegates identified "keeping children in school now" as the most important.
Participants in the three-day tripartite Conference which concluded today in Kampala, Uganda, were told that child labour is rife throughout Africa. The ILO estimates that if current trends persist, the ranks of child labourers could swell from today's approximately 80 million to over 100 million by the year 2015. During the meeting, the ILO Director-General, Michel Hansenne, said that such an outcome "would be a tragedy not just for the children involved but for Africa as a whole."
Other Conclusions in the Report of the Conference include calls for improved legislation "as a statement of political commitment" and conformity of national legislation to international labour standards. It also called for "good governance which is representative of and accountable to the public interest and supportive of social development."
The delegates agreed that "it is important that African countries participate in the development of the proposed new international labour standards on extreme forms of child labour so that they can influence their content." Among the agenda items of the next International Labour Conference (to be held in June 1998 in Geneva, Switzerland) is a proposal to develop and adopt a new international instrument outlawing intolerable forms of child labour.
The delegates requested the ILO to pursue ways to assist the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in strengthening its capacity to address labour issues and asked the ILO and UNICEF to "look into the question of international resources and the social impact of structural adjustment policies" in order to see how best to "ameliorate or reduce the adverse impact of these policies on the poor."
The report and conclusions of the meeting call for African states to cooperate with each other in the effort to address the immediate and underlying causes of child labour and asked that the results of the Conference be submitted to the 21 st Ordinary Session of the OAU's Labour and Social Affairs Commission, which meets in Pretoria, South Africa, from 13 to 18 April, 1998.
The ILO, which counts 174 member States, provided financial and technical assistance to the Kampala Conference on Child Labour, which was organized under the auspices of the OAU and was hosted by the Ugandan Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.