World Union calls for immediate action to prevent explosion of child labour in Russia

ICFTU Online..., 170/990915/DD, 26 October 1999

Brussels. October 26 1999 (ICFTU OnLine): Millions of Russian Children are in imminent danger of falling out of the school system and facing destitution, child labour or criminal exploitation unless immediate action is taken, said the ICFTU today (October 26 ).

Russian Children, their future in jeopardy, a report carried out by the Moscow office of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) has found that more and more children are being forced into work because of economic circumstances, and because of the serious decline in the Russian education system.

A 1993 survey by Education International showed that up to 5% of children under 15 were working more than 20 hours per week. This figure is almost certain to increased in the last five years.

ICFTU research showed that the main forms of work for Russian children were casual employment in small business (motor garages, kiosks, cafes, laundries, etc) or street vending. More and more children are being used by criminal syndicates, especially for the sale and distribution of illegal drugs, as children under 14 are below the age of criminal responsibility.

There is increasing evidence of children becoming involved in commercial sexual exploitation, and many other children are becoming the victims of extortion rackets carried out by slightly older adolescents.

While children have traditionally taken part in holiday activities on farms, there are signs that significant numbers of them working for longer hours than the law allowed.

“The report cites cases of children as young as five-years-old who live in basements and on the streets of Moscow. A new sub-culture of society is being created. One boy, Alex, is part of this shocking sub-culture. His parents are both alcoholics and have no interest in him whatsoever. No-one ever speaks to him and, as a result, his speech is incoherent. He works with other small children in a brothel where, under the influence of drugs, he will do whatever is asked of him. The psychological injuries to these children are horrific and any rehabilitation will be a long and arduous process—if it succeeds at all.

In the countryside, twelve-year-old Nikolai has to work all summer for fourteen hours a day on a large state farm in Samara. As an assistant combine harvester operator, he is paid mainly in grain, and in fodder for his mother's two cows. He still goes to school during term time but wants to start full time work.

Payment in kind is increasingly common throughout Russia, where up to 50% of the Russian workforce has not received regular wages, and survives by bartering the “in-kind” payments they get from employers and cultivating small-holdings. On the other hand the new elite has build massive fortunes from privatisation and the growth of a largely unregulated financial sector, and transferred a large proportion of their assets into foreign currency accounts in Switzerland and Cyprus.

The impoverishment of Russia has meant a startling increase of child illness, says the ICFTU. In 1996, 2,300 children of pre-school age had been infected with tuberculosis in Samara Oblast (province) alone, while the number of hospital beds for children fell by 20% between 1994 and 1996.

The fast deteriorating Russian education system is the other factor pushing children into child labour. In 1996 the authorities admitted that only half of the necessary 100 million school books for the country had been printed, and in 1997 teachers faced an average delay of three months before being paid, as US$1.5 billion worth of teachers wages remained unpaid.

The ICFTU says that there does not seem to be a pattern of child labour developing in the formal sector, children are at increasing risk of various forms of exploitation. In order to prevent children ending up in the streets or going to work instead of to school, more money needs to be made available for schools, and special programmes for children must be set up. In addition, IMF/World Bank lending programmes must stipulate that a certain proportion of their loans must be spent on child education and health. Finally, Russian laws against child exploitation must be implemented.