The eradication of child labour is one of EI’s key priorities and is linked to many aspects of EI’s mission and work to support quality public education. There is a broad consensus that the single most effective way to eradicate child labour is to improve access and the quality of education. Universal quality education can break intergenerational cycles of poverty and dependence on child labour.
EI’s main focus is on how to make the school environment conducive so as to attract children to school and prevent school abandonment. Working with school leaders and teachers, parents and the wider community, EI supports school-based projects with a holistic approach, embracing issues of quality teaching, safe schools, professional ethics, inclusive education, gender equality and the status and employment conditions of teachers.
While the number of child labourers has declined dramatically since 2000, according to the ILO in 2016, there were still 152 million children – 64 million girls and 88 million boys – in child labour globally, accounting for almost one in ten of all children in the world. It is estimated that 72 per cent of all child labour is in agriculture and 69 per cent is performed as unpaid family work. While there has been encouraging progress in reducing the extent of child labour over the last two decades, the pace of progress has slowed in recent years. Child labour has actually increased in Africa, according to the latest figures issued in 2016.
EI works with the ILO, UNESCO, UNICEF, and the global unions, including ITUC, the IUF, BWI and other civil society organisations at international and national level, such as the Dutch Stop Child Labour Coalition, the German GEW Fair Childhood Foundation, the AOb and Mondiaal FNV. EI is a member of the civil society coalition Global Campaign for Education, the Global March against Child Labour, and Alliance 8.7, a multi-stakeholder partnership to end forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour in accordance with Target 8.7 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
EI with its affiliates will participate actively to commemorate the 2021 International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour.
What is child labour?
Child labour refers to work that is a) mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and that b) interferes with children’s schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as any person less than 18 years of age. Child labour is employment or work carried out by a child below the minimum legal working age set by a country in accordance with ILO Convention 138 (generally 14 or 15 years with possible exceptions for light work from the ages of 12 or 13); or any work undertaken by a child below the age of 18 that constitutes a worst form of child labour as defined by ILO Convention 182. This includes work or economic activities which is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children (often referred to as hazardous work).
Child labour includes work carried out by children, whether paid or unpaid or in the formal or informal economy if it is prejudicial to schooling or harmful to health and development. However, work performed in or around the home without a negative impact on the child’s schooling, health or development is not regarded as child labour. This is sometimes referred to as ‘socialising work’ or the socialisation of the child through work experience.
EI’s Policy on child labour
EI is committed to the promotion of all children’s rights, notably the right to education as the essential tool for the eradication of child labour. EI recognises the fundamental link between access to quality public education and the eradication of child labour and considers that the primary responsibility for eradicating child labour rests with national authorities.
“All people have the right to free, equitable, inclusive and quality public education of 12 years, of which at least 9 years should be compulsory.” (Rights policy paper para 33 adopted at 7th EI World Congress, 21-26 July 2015, Ottawa, Canada)
However, EI recognises that this cannot be achieved without adequate international and national investment. EI supports the UN General Assembly resolution calling on countries to allocate a minimum of 0.7% of gross national income to official development assistance. It is regrettable that up until October 2019, only 5 countries have attained that target. Furthermore EI calls for a comprehensive financing framework for the SDGs and the UNESCO Education 2030 Agenda. Given the current large shortfall in education financing, particularly in low-income, lower-middle income and conflict affected countries, EI urges governments to meet commitments for substantial investment of new funds, by allocating at least 6% of GDP and 20% of government expenditure to education.
The 8th EI World Congress meeting in Bangkok, Thailand from 21-26 July 2019 recognised the critical links between achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals SDG4 (on education), SDG5 (on gender equality) and SDG8 (on decent work). The Congress adopted two resolutions on child labour. The resolution on child labour calls upon governments to provide for compulsory education for all children aged between 6 and 16 years; to ensure all children have the necessary birth registration documents so as inter alia they are not barred from attending school; and to provide adequate learning environments and support with school materials to vulnerable families. It urges EI affiliates to get involved in work to eradicate child labour and where appropriate form strategic partnerships with other stakeholders.
The resolution on ‘continued action against child labour by fighting school dropout and working towards quality inclusive education for all’ notes in addition that children are particularly vulnerable to child labour in situations of conflict, (forced) migration and natural disasters; and that on-going commercialisation and privatisation of education is undermining access to and quality of education. The Resolution notes the positive impact of education union projects on child labour, not only in terms of a reduction in child labour but also for the education unions themselves in terms of membership and visibility. It mandates EI to continue to cooperate in Global Conferences on Child Labour, to seek funding to support education unions in their work to eradicate child labour; and to cooperate with the ILO and other partners and networks on child labour initiatives.
In previous Congress, EI has adopted the following resolutions on child labour: Resolution on accelerated action against child labour in connection with the post-2015 sustainable development goals (2015); Resolution on Child Labour (2011) and Resolution on Child Labour (1995).
Activities on child labour
At international level EI advocates for increased government and international funding for quality public education and programmes to address the eradication of child labour. It participates on an annual basis in the June 12 commemoration of the World Day against Child Labour and encourages member unions to participate in national events. It also has sent delegations to the World Conferences against Child Labour. For example, EI participated in the IV World Conference against Child Labour in Buenos Aires, Argentina from 14-16 November 2017 where as a result of concerted union advocacy the final communiqué recognised the important role of employers’ and workers’ organisation and social dialogue in promoting decent work and eradicating child labour. More information on EI’s role at the World Conference here.
During the ILO annual conference, EI has also made oral statements at the ILO Conferences in cases where countries are examined for non-compliance on ILO Conventions concerning child labour.
At national level, EI works in partnership with member unions and other civil society organisations to promote a wide range of targeted measures to eradicate child labour and to attract and retain children in schools. EI now has considerable experience in working on the area-based approach leading to child labour free zones in some countries. Unions are providing professional development training for teachers to gain a better understanding of child labour, to strengthen active learning methods to promote inclusive education and positive discipline techniques. In some countries, unions support bridging classes for children returning back to school; and provide training on how to set up different sports and cultural extra-curricular activities or to incorporate practical crafts and skills in the school curriculum. Teachers are also given training on how to focus on the needs of the girl child, including encouraging class participation, ensuring safe routes to schools, provision of girls’ toilets and changing rooms, supporting menstrual hygiene management; and interactions with professional women to provide positive role models. Projects have generally set up child labour monitoring groups in the school and community and supported training of the PTAs and School Management Committees so that can undertake their mandates and champion children’s right to education in their local community.. EI has also organised a series of South-South exchanges so that education unions can learn from the experiences and good practices of each other.
Where does EI have on-going child labour projects?
In 2018, EI was supporting child labour projects in 6 countries (India, Mali, Nicaragua, Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe). Some projects have been implemented over various years and others are recent ‘start-ups’. In 2019, new projects were commenced in 7 countries (Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Morocco, Senegal, Togo and Albania). These projects are supported by Mondiaal FNV, the GEW Fair Childhood Foundation, the AOb and through the Dutch coalition Stop Child Labour.
Benefits for education unions of working on child labour projects
Many education trade unions have found that when they engage on issues of child labour and inclusive quality education, they benefit in many ways. They find they have new opportunities to cooperate with education authorities on a non-conflictive issue and to cooperate with other trade unions and civil society organisations. In schools where unions have worked on child labour issues, there have been significant membership gains, and a more active membership. Unions have also found that labour relations have improved and the perception of the role and work of trade unions among parents and the local community has been enhanced. In some cases, there have been advocacy gains in terms of commitments to improve infrastructure or provision of school meals.
Useful resources on child labour issues
- EI/AOb Child Labour Projects: Transnational Best Practices and Union Impacts
- Teachers unions at the forefront of the fight against child labour Good practice (2013)
- Child labour and education for all (October 2013)
- Teachers and Education Unions: Ending Child Labour. A Resource Manual for Teachers & Education Unions
- 5X5 Stepping Stones towards creating child labour free zones
Keep in touch:
EI against child labour Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EIagainstchildlabour
Contact and more information:
Consultant Child Labour Projects
Human and Trade Union Rights and Equality Unit
Partners and useful links: