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The road from work to school
ICFTU Report, 15 June 1998
Following the ICFTU's 1996 publication "No Time To Play", international trade unions are finalising a new report into child labour in all continents and in several industrial sectors. Preliminary results of the union investigations are detailed below. The research shows that, despite efforts by unions, non-government organisations and many governments and employer organisations, a major new impetus is required if the 250 million children now working are to be given the chance to go to school and replaced in the workforce with adults.
According to World Bank figures, at least 15 million children are producing goods for international markets, in agriculture and in industrial production. A much larger number are providing goods and services for domestic consumption, working in the formal and informal sectors. The largest single sector is agriculture, accounting for as many as half of all child workers, many of whom are engaged in subsistence farming, not knowing from one month to the next if there will be enough to eat.
The unions fear that if urgent and concerted action is not taken, child labour will become a permanent part of the global economy, as multinational companies, usually using complex subcontracting arrangements, profit from child labour and other labour rights violations without fear of exposure or penalty.
The hundreds of millions of children working today have some of the highest rates of workplace injury and disease, with millions of children each year sustaining illness or accidents.
The results of the union research, supported by comprehensive survey work carried out by the International Labour Organisation, show that child labour is resurfacing in industrialised countries, as well as increasing in the transition economies, especially in the CIS and Central and Eastern Europe.
Unions make a clear distinction between child labour as defined by ILO Convention 138, and the common practice of children helping out around the home and earning pocket money.
Key causes of child labour include:
New ILO Convention:
The trade union movement is campaigning world-wide for a strong new ILO Convention which will require immediate action on the worst forms of child labour. The new Convention will provide an important support to the existing main ILO Convention 138 which sets the minimum age for employment.
The unions are calling for a Convention which targets the most hazardous and exploitative forms of child labour and sets clear requirements for action. The unions want the Convention to include forms of child labour which deny children the chance to go to school, as well as the exploitation of children for profit.
The development of a new Convention, along with the full application of Convention 138, will provide the basis for a genuine international effort to rid the world of the scourge of child labour.
From Global March to Global Movement:
The hugely successful Global March Against Child Labour will culminate in Geneva at the start of the ILO Conference. The March has awakened literally millions of people around the world to the need to get involved in ending child labour, and has led to close co-operation between trade unions and non-government organisations in many countries.
The international trade union movement wants to see the momentum of the Global March sustained and built upon. For this reason, the ICFTU, International Trade Secretariats and their national affiliates are drawing up proposals for this, and will be holding discussions with other organisations on the way forward.
New Study - First Results:
The information presented below is based on summaries of the several of the studies contained in the forthcoming ICFTU report.
This country has one of the highest incidences of child labour in Latin America, as at least 2 million (14.3%) of children aged 10 - 13 work. Many live on the streets at night, and work in the footwear, textile, garment and tin industries during the day. Child labour is also being used in the metallurgy, car and electronics factories.
Sub-contracting Industries such as shoe making also employ a large proportion of children. A recent union study found that 18% of people working in the informal side of shoe production in Sao Paulo were under 14.
Children also work in the tin and charcoal industries, where they have been found digging by hand to search for cassiterite, and as debt slaves raking up charcoal. Some of those who have tried to escape have been murdered.
Brazilian trade unions, working with ngo's, government and some employers, have been taking concerted action to remove child workers from the workplace and support their reintegration into education. Many older teenagers are also beginning to return to school, working part-time under conditions negotiated by the unions. The Brazilian government is removing children from mines and other work, and providing money for school attendance.
While exact figures are difficult to obtain, international estimates and anectdotal information point to the existence of several million child labourers in China. In recent years, the Chinese authorities have acknowledged the problem, but a great deal remains to be done. Many if not most under-age workers in China are girls, including those working in the Special Economic Zones in South China. A recent survey of factories in these zones found that 75% of the workers under 15 were girls who had not finished primary school.
They work in fireworks factories, in shoe factories set up by well-known international sports brands, in electronics factories, and in nail factories. In one factory, child workers (aged 8 - 15) who had not been paid for six months went on strike, blocking the factory owner's car. In another a child was punished for cutting herself by having her head banged against the wall. Little is known about the extent of children working in agriculture in China, and to what degree this work is in breach of international standards, however the difference between estimated the population of children under the age of 14 and the retention rate in basic education does indicate that there is a significant problem.
In 1994, the UN Commission on Human Rights reported that there were 2.7million working children aged 10 - 14 in Indonesia. Recently, children have been moving out of agriculture (including fishing and forestry) into factory work, providing cheap labour in the manufacturing and service sectors.
Children produce garments and rattan furniture for export as well as for the domestic market. In the rattan furniture industry children start work aged nine or ten, working an average of 42 hours a week from the age of 12 or 13.
Children work in the fishing industry in Northern Sumatra where ten-year-old boys work in virtual slavery on the fishing platforms. Children also work as street sellers. Indonesian employers contracting to multinationals in the garment and shoe industries, have pointed to the grossly unfair pricing arrangements and demands for immediate filling of orders as a major cause of child labour and poor wages and conditions for adults. While the absolute numbers of child workers appear to have declined somewhat in recent years, the economic crisis in Indonesia is expected to result in a large increase in numbers of children working, as education funding is restricted and parents thrown out of work are forced to rely on income from children's work. There are signs that this problem is beginning to appear in several other Asian economies affected by the crisis.
Italy has one of the highest rates of child labour in the European Community, with one and a half million child workers. Most children work in the big cities, in small businesses, and many children truant from school in order to do so. Many children also work in agriculture. Shoe production is one of the main industries which employs child labour, as children work in small, scattered workshops. For some parents child employment is seen as an alternative to their children becoming involved in criminal activities. The Italian unions, government and employers have launched a series of major initiatives to tackle the problem within Italy, and to increase Italy's support to other countries to help them deal with their child labour problems.
The Philippines is a rapidly urbanising society, and companies there, often linked to large multinationals, have been exploiting children to increase profits and gain a competitive edge. Child labour is on the increase, and there are now 8 million children working, 5 million of them (ie. 19% of the labour force) aged 5 - 14. Of these about 80% work in rural areas, where they work in agriculture and animal husbandry, and 20% in the cities, where they work in the garment, furniture, footwear and handicraft industries.
One area which employs a high proportion of children is `muro-ami' fishing, where they spend between 12 and 15 hours in the water as divers each day.
Children also work in food processing factories, where some work as `debt labourers' and sleep on the premises. Another burgeoning sector of work for children is the sex trade, which employs over 20,000 children, who service both the foreign and local clientele. Often children begin working in the tourist industry, and are forced into commercial sex exploitation or drawn into it by the prospect of more money. Tens of thousands of children are involved in subsistence activities, especially living on the streets in the big cities. The launch of the Global March in the Philippines has given a major impetus to the fight against child labour there.
Child labour has recently been acknowledged as a problem in Russia, because the onset of a consumer society shows children that work can bring them the benefits of new goods and services. Some children start work aged nine, but the average age is 12.5 years. The most common job is selling (often stolen) goods, either privately or on the street. Child workers were also found in the formal sector such delivering mail, factory and agricultural work, baby-sitting, cleaning, restaurant work, etc, and in illegal occupations such as selling drugs or petrol, money-changing or boxing for money.
One of the significant dangers which the children face is extortion and racketeering, and nearly one third of children have experienced this, or have friends who had, including being harassed by the police.
About one third to one half of children in their last two years of compulsory schooling are now involved in some form of work, a number of them performing tasks prohibited under existing legislation. Jobs include delivery, baby-sitting, hotel and catering work, and cases have been reported of manual labouring, including factory and building sites. 22% have had accidents of some kind at work. Unions found that 20% of 11 year olds and 25% of 12 year olds worked. Altogether, 40% of school children have some form of paid work and 1.5million are working illegally in one way or another, either because they are too young, because they are doing unsuitable work, or because they are working too many hours. The Trades Union Congress has conducted detailed research on child labour in Great Britain, and is pressing for action nationally and internationally.
US labour unions and the US Government have repeatedly cited cases of child labour in garment industry sweatshops, and the widespread use of child labour in agriculture has been well documented. Minimum age for employment varies from one state to another, and illegal employment of children is found in enterprises where there is neither union representation nor collective bargaining.
In a country where about half of the 11.9 million people are under 15, child labour is a serious problem. Agribusiness is a large employer of children, whether as part of the family workforce, or on commercial large-scale farms and there are estimated to be hundreds of thousands working children in this sector. Children also work in mining, as domestic workers, and as street sellers. The country's increasing economic problems mean that children are often used by families to maximise earnings. Zimbabwean trade union research has pointed in particular to the negative effects of structural adjustment policies in Zimbabwe.
Stitching Footballs - Sialkot, Pakistan - Children are involved in stitching footballs often in small home-based workshops, which means that women and girls - who are a significant part of the labour force- can work, as the Purdah system restricts their working. Child labour provides around 23% of the family income. As a result of pressure from trade unions (including the ICFTU/ITGLWF/FIET agreement with FIFA) and international scrutiny, the ILO and children's charities, manufacturers have agreed to phase out child labour by 1998, and to support education for ex-workers, under an ILO/UNICEF programme.
Diamonds and gemstones
India: The gem stone industry is the most important of the export-orientated industries and earned nearly $1.5b from exports in 1993. There may be as many as 100,000 children cutting and polishing diamonds, and 20,000 children polishing other precious stones. Children work 10 hours a day, in poor conditions carrying out hazardous work.
Synthetic gemstones India: Tamil Nadu -The government exports $3million of these gems annually, with a labour force which is mainly women, along with an estimated 8,000 - 10,000 children, some as young as seven and many in bondage.
Thailand: This industry which exported $170m. of gems to the USA in 1992, has been known to use children for 12 hours a day, six days a week, for $2 a week. There is some evidence that the problem has decreased recently, however in the absence of effective rules in international trade, Thai companies risk losing markets to countries which tolerate child labour.
The ICFTU has been working with the Universal Alliance of Diamond Workers to push the industry, including the De Beers and Rio Tinto who control the global diamond trade, into accepting reforms.
Pakistan: These are an important part of Pakistan's export trade, and children work long hours under dangerous conditions cutting and polishing surgical instruments which are then exported for use in hospitals and medical establishments around the world. Children make up roughly 15% of the workforce out of 50,000, some of them being as young as eight years old. Health unions affiliated to the Public Services International are raising the issue with health authorities around the world, and the Pakistani affiliates of the International Metalworkers' Federation are planning an organising campaign in the sector in Sialkot, where most of the production takes place. Local employers and unions will be involved in an ILO programme to tackle the problem, using funds raised by Italian unions and employers under an initiative with UNICEF Italy.
This is one of the main sectors for child labour around the world and has been the focus of concerted campaign action by the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation.
Indonesia: A large number of children under 15 are employed in textile mills making Barbie Doll dresses, working in 7-hour shifts, During their first nine months' "training" period, they are not paid, and can be dismissed for failing to reach their quotas. Eventually they are paid US$1.75 a day, but have to buy their own uniform and scissors, needles and thread.
China: Children of 12 - 15 work in the textile industry and there are frequent reports of occupational accidents and illness amongst children in this sector.
Brazil: The ILO has reported that 17% of all children working in Brazilian industry are involved in textile and garment production.
The Philippines: The garment industry in this country uses a large amount of child labour in its subcontracted operations, where children receive one third of the adult minimum wage.
India: India's silk industry is crucial for foreign earnings, and there international competitive pressures may help to explain why girls as young as five are to be found working from 7am to 9pm. They work in embroidery, in handloom weaving, in producing silk thread, and on `zardozi' work on exported items of silk. There are many thousands of children in this industry, some working as bonded labourers,
Bangladesh: The clothing export industry uses a great deal of child labour, and about 90% of the work is done by women and girls, some of whom work alongside their mothers. Working hours are long and conditions are poor. Under international pressure, action has been taken to reduce child labour in the export sector, however garment production for the domestic market involves many thousands of young girls. Claims that thousands of girls removed from export factories have gone into the commercial sex trade have never been backed up by real evidence. However many girls coming from rural areas to find work in factories have been pushed into the sex industry, or have ended up there after being forced to "entertain" clients or following sexual abuse by factory supervisors.
This is a major employer of child labour in both the developed and developing countries, and it is on the increase as many developing countries divert land-use towards export production, leaving less productive land for domestic production. The International Union of Food and Agricultural Workers points to the widespread practice of countries denying trade union rights to agricultural workers, leaving them and their children unprotected from exploitation. Recent ILO studies highlight the high level of illness and injury amongst child agricultural workers.
Italy: Children work in family enterprises, and in large commercial enterprises which run the agribusiness, where they do unskilled jobs such as weeding or harvesting.
Tanzania: Children are widely employed on plantations producing tea, coffee, sisal, sugar and pyrethrum. Some start work on the estates from the age of ten, transplanting and weeding, and carrying sisal fibres. They make up nearly one third of the labour force and are paid half the adult wage.
Brazil: Sugar cane, sisal and tea .Children make up to 40% of the workforce on some sugar cane plantations, where some have been working since they were 11 or 12. Brazil is the world's largest exporter of sisal. Over 30,000 children aged 3 - 14 work in sisal production, working up to 50 hours a week, paid virtually nothing. Children from aged seven work on Brazilian tea plantations, where their labour usually complements their family's earnings.
Dominican Republic: Sugar: Labour - sometimes forced labour, including children - is imported from Haiti to cut sugar cane, often finishing up on the streets of Port-au-Prince, suffering from malnutrition.
Zimbabwe: Tea: Many children work on tea plantations, where they begin their day at 5.30, often walking 5 - 8 kilometres to the tea fields, and work until 11.30am, before going to school, often too tired to benefit from classes.
Philippines: Fruit and Vegetables: Children work in the fields and plantations which supply the Dole Food Company, for six hours a day during school days, and 11 hours on Saturday. Some children aged nine years old work on the banana plantations.
USA: Fruit and Vegetables: Tens of thousands of children work in the fields harvesting vegetables and fruit. For example, in California's onion fields, children are exposed to pesticides. Unions trying to organise in the sector and combat the exploitation of children often meet with fierce resistance from employers.
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