RECOMMENDATION 1336 (1997)1 on combating child
labour exploitation as a matter of priority
1. The Assembly notes the growing global concern over the economic
exploitation of children. Such exploitation, though more prevalent and severe in many
countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, is also an important social problem
2. The Assembly further notes the complexity of this issue, and the
importance of taking this complexity into account when framing policy responses. Types of
child work occupy a spectrum which runs from activities wholly beneficial to a
childs health and development at one extreme, to gross exploitation at the other.
Priority should be given to put an immediate end to the most intolerable forms of child
labour - slavery and slave-like practices, forced or compulsory labour, including
debt-bondage and serfdom, the use of children in prostitution, pornography and the drug
trade, and their employment in any type of work that is likely to jeopardise their health,
safety, or morals. There must be a special protection for girls and a total prohibition of
work by the very young.
3. In developing countries and in certain European countries, poverty
and social exclusion are among the main causes of child labour. Patterns of poverty and
the strategies adopted by the poor to cope with poverty vary considerably between
countries. There is a corresponding need for a country-specific approach in order to
address these problems effectively. There is a need to endorse explicitly the objectives
of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No. 138 of 1973 concerning the
Minimum Age for Admission to Employment, in order to abolish effectively child labour and
to raise progressively the minimum age for admission to employment or work to a level
consistent with the full physical and mental development of young persons. The minimum age
for admission to employment should not be less than the age of completion of compulsory
schooling and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years.
4. Education has an important role in both the promotion and the
prevention of child labour. Inaccessible or inappropriate education may push children into
the workplace prematurely. Conversely, education which provides skills for future
employment will encourage children to remain in school and so reduce more severe forms of
exploitation. Many children combine school and work in spite of the difficulties involved.
There is a need to provide relevant and flexible education for these working children. All
children should benefit from free and appropriate education which, inter alia, would
enable them to gain productive employment later in life.
5. Social advocacy has a crucial long-term role to play in raising
awareness about child labour. The problem is often hidden and unrecognised, to the extent
that the public may believe that the problem no longer exists. Trade unions, the media and
non-governmental organisations have an important function in identifying and bringing to
the publics attention problems of child exploitation. In this way political will for
action can be strengthened.
6. Child labour is a pan-European issue. In European countries existing
forms of intolerable child labour include commercial sexual exploitation, sexual and
physical abuse of child workers, exploitation of young domestic workers, child
trafficking, employment of children for work under hazardous conditions, and problems of
7. Roma/Gypsy minorities, legal or illegal immigrants and refugees
suffer from particularly high levels of poverty and child labour. In the countries of
central and eastern Europe in particular, the transition to a market economy, increasing
poverty, and the restructuring of the welfare system have made economic exploitation of
children more likely, and cases have been reported in many of these countries.
8. Child labour in Europe is inadequately documented. A first step must
be to properly define the priority issues of child labour in each European country and to
identify the priority problems for action through proper appraisal. The ILO offers
expertise in rapid appraisal methodology for such assessments, which could form the first
step in dealing with child labour within the European strategy for children, as proposed
by the Assembly in its Recommendation 1286 (1996).
9. Where intolerable categories of child labour have been identified,
plans of action to eliminate them are needed, through an integrated strategy of
prevention, regulation and rehabilitation. Through its work on child survival and child
rights, Unicef has acquired the necessary experience and the capacity to intervene at
European level thanks to its network of national committees and its assistance programmes.
10. Policies towards child labour should be consistent with the
principle of the best interests of the child. The regulation of child work, through
legislation and inspection, is important in many countries in order to set standards for
employers and underpin ways to monitor and promote adherence to these standards.
11. As far as international trade sanctions are concerned, the Assembly
recognises the paramount importance of such fundamental human rights embodied in ILO
conventions on child labour: it calls on the ILO to provide the necessary guidance on
practical application, especially through technical co-operation and other appropriate
measures. The Assembly, therefore, endorses the ILO proposal for the adoption by all
states of a declaration advocating universally acknowledged principles and fundamental
rights, which should be binding for all member states, irrespective of whether or not they
have ratified these conventions.
12. Trade sanctions are effective only as a last resort in the struggle
against exploitative child work, provided they are implemented on a multilateral (rather
than unilateral) level and combined with other measures.
13. If properly designed and monitored, codes of conduct can be a useful
way of improving employment practice without harming the interests of the children
involved. European countries can best combat child labour outside Europe through
international co-operation programmes which aim to help exploited children through
well-designed programmes for rehabilitation and reform.
14. Accordingly the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers
call on all member states to firmly combat the economic exploitation of children in Europe
i. adopting a clear national policy and time-bound programme of action
for that purpose, which should be comprehensive, coherent and co-ordinated,
interdisciplinary and preventive, and by allocating the necessary resources to it;
ii. undertaking systematic and action-oriented research on all areas
regarding child labour;
iii. reviewing national legislation to better enforce the protection of
children and in particular to comply with the social standards set by the Council of
Europe, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the relevant ILO
conventions, particularly the ILO Minimum Age Convention;
iv. improving the efficiency of labour and school inspection services;
v. a closer involvement and consultation of all interested partners,
such as trade unions, employers, non-governmental organisations, the children themselves
and their parents;
vi. raising awareness in society as a whole of the impact of premature
child work and by educating consumers to consider basic labour rights when buying
15. The Assembly also invites the Committee of Ministers to demonstrate
at European level its political will to combat the economic exploitation of children:
i. as a follow-up to the European strategy for children, by giving
a. an appraisal in each member state of the situation of child labour,
in order to identify its most intolerable forms, analyse the causes and define proposals
for ways in which these forms of exploitation might best be controlled;
b. the definition of a comprehensive European policy on child labour,
taking account of social standards set by the Council of Europe and in order to comply
therewith, in co-operation with the ILO, Unicef, relevant non-governmental organisations
and the social partners, and in consultation with working children in order to ensure that
their views are given due consideration;
ii. by developing programmes of technical co-operation and aid, in
particular for central and eastern European member states, in order to draft and improve
national legislation and policy and organise or strengthen the labour inspection system;
iii. by regularly asking those states concerned to review their
legislation in order to ratify the European Social Charter and the revised Charter of the
Council of Europe as well as the Additional Protocol providing for a system of collective
complaints, in order to give the right to petition to non-governmental organisations and
associations for the protection of children in case of non-compliance.
16. Concerning child labour outside Europe, the Assembly calls on the
Committee of Ministers to recommend to member states:
i. to apply multilateral trade sanctions only as a last resort against
countries, in response to intolerable child labour practices;
ii. to support, unilaterally or through international co-operation,
integrated programmes to combat the most intolerable forms of child labour in the
developing world, for example by member states of the Council of Europe providing
increased resources to the ILOs International Programme on the Elimination of Child
iii. to define and include in World Trade Organisation agreements social
measures with positive incentives to encourage developing countries to ensure compliance
with certain fundamental ILO conventions on minimum standards, such as elimination of
forced labour and the minimum age for employment of children.
17. The Assembly also invites the Committee of Ministers to ask member
states to participate actively in the elaboration and the implementation of the new ILO
convention against the most intolerable forms of child labour.
1. Assembly debate on 26 June 1997 (22nd Sitting) (see
Doc. 7840, report of the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee, rapporteur: Mrs
Text adopted by the Assembly on 26 June 1997 (22nd Sitting).