Combatting child labour exploitation as a matter of priority

Report (1)

Doc. 7840

5 June 1997

Rapporteur: Mrs Irena Belohorska, Slovakia, not registered in a group




The economic exploitation of children is an alarming problem which is on the increase both in Europe and in the rest of the world. Urgent action is needed to combat this problem by rallying all of society's forces, concentrating on political circles, but also involving the social partners, the media, non-governmental organisations etc, and children themselves. It is also essential to pool and coordinate all the efforts of various international organisations such as UNICEF, the International Labour Organisation etc, and states must also adopt consistent attitudes in the various international forums.


The ban on child labour under the age of 15 is one of the indisputable values defended by the Council of Europe. However, in the interests of efficiency, this report urges the States to give priority to the fight against all the most intolerable forms of child labour and adopt the measures proposed.


I. Draft recommendation


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 throughout Europe.


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 child's health and development at one extreme, to gross exploitation at the other. It is a priority need to identify the most intolerable forms of child labour in a particular country and work for their eradication.


3. In developing countries and in certain European countries, one of the main causes of child labour is poverty and social exclusion. Patterns of poverty and strategies adopted by the poor to cope with this vary considerably between countries. There is a corresponding need for a country specific approach in order to address these problems effectively.


4. Education has an important role in either the promotion or prevention of child labour. Inaccessible or inappropriate education may push children earlier into the workplace. 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 to identify and bring to public 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 domestic workers, child trafficking, employment of children in hazardous conditions, and problems of street children.


7. Roma-Gypsy minorities, legal or illegal immigrants and refugees suffer from particularly high levels of poverty and child work. In 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 International Labour Organisation (ILO) offers expertise in rapid appraisal methodology for such assessments, which could form the first step in a child labour element to 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 for elimination are needed, through an integrated strategy of prevention, regulation and rehabilitation. UNICEF has the experience through its work on child survival and child rights, and also the capacity in Europe through its network of national committees and its assistance programmes.


10. Policy 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 what is expected from employers, and underpin ways to monitor and promote adherence to these standards.


11.Trade sanctions are only effective 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.


12.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 combat child labour elsewhere through international cooperation programmes which aim to help exploited children through well designed programmes for rehabilitation and reform.


13. Accordingly the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers call on all member states to firmly combat the economic exploitation of children in Europe by:

  1. adopting a clear national policy and time-bound programme of action for that purpose, which should be comprehensive, coherent and coordinated, interdisciplinary and preventive, and by dedicating the necessary resources to it;

  2. undertaking systematic and action-oriented research on all areas regarding child labour;

  3. 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;

  4. improving the efficiency of labour and school inspection services;

  5. a closer involvement and consultation of all interested partners such as trade unions, employers, non-governmental organisations, and children themselves and their parents;

  6. raising awareness in society as a whole of the impact of premature child work and by educating consumers to pay attention to basic labour rights when buying products.


14.The Assembly also invites the Committee of Ministers to demonstrate at European level its political will to combat the economic exploitation of children: a follow-up to the European Strategy for Children, by giving priority to:

  1. an appraisal in each member state of the situation of child labour, in order to identify the most intolerable forms of child labour, to analyse the causes and define proposals for ways in which these forms of exploitation might best be controlled,

  2. 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,

  3. 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; developing programmes of technical cooperation and aid, in particular for central and east European member states, in order to draft and improve national legislation and policy and organise or strengthen the labour inspection system; regularly asking those states concerned to review their legislation in order to ratify the Social Charter and revised Charter of the Council of Europe and to ratify the Protocol on 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.


15. Concerning child labour outside Europe, the Assembly calls on the Committee of Ministers to recommend to member states:

  1. to apply multilateral trade sanctions only as a last resort against countries as a response to intolerable child labour practices;

  2. to support, unilaterally or through international cooperation, integrated programmes to control the most intolerable forms of child labour in the developing world;

  3. to define and include in World Trade Organisation agreements social clauses 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 minimim age for employment of children.


16.The Assembly also invites the Committee of Ministers to ask member states to participate actively in the elaboration of the new ILO convention against the most intolerable forms of child labour and in its implementation.


II. Explanatory memorandum by Ms Irena Belohorska


When adopting Recommendation 1286 on the European Strategy for Children, the Assembly entrusted the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee with continuing to act as advocate for the cause of children (Order 514 (1996) both within and outside Europe. As one of its priorities, the committee decided to deal with the question of child labour (Doc. 7678).


In Paris on 7 January 1997, the committee held a hearing with representatives of the International Labour Office (Mr Picard of the International Labour Standards Department and Mr Derrien of the International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) and the European Trade Union Confederation (Mr Fonteneau). It also commissioned Mr Chris Smith, consultant, to produce a general study, which will be found below (see Appendix).


The Rapporteur wishes to express her thanks to all concerned for their help and for the work accomplished.


The committee devoted two meetings to consideration of the draft recommendation, which was finally adopted at the meeting in Florence on 30 May 1997, jointly with UNICEF. The Rapporteur takes this opportunity of mentioning that the committee's collaboration with UNICEF, which has now been in place for several years, has always most valuable and productive and will hopefully continue to be so.


As regards the substance of the question, the Rapporteur refers to the following expert's report and will merely observe that the main cause of child labour is poverty, which is especially true in the developing countries. In Europe, the situation is more complex and needs to be approached country-by-country. While poverty plays some part in southern countries, such as Portugal and Italy, elsewhere recent studies have shown the importance of the child's role as consumer and even of his sense of independence in countries such as Russia.


Finding appropriate remedies accordingly demands a country-by-country, multi-facetted approach entailing collecting more information about child labour, helping countries clarify objectives and priorities with emphasis on prevention, and helping them frame a national policy. Action must also aim at overhaul of the educational system, economic assistance and the framing of child protection legislation and monitoring, particularly through the establishment of a labour inspectorate. Proposals are made to this effect in the draft recommendation.


Attention must be drawn to the social standards laid down by the Council of Europe. This means mainly the Social Charter, of which Article 7 deals with child protection, fixing the minimum age for employment at 15 and requiring each contracting state to have a labour inspectorate. It is a pity that only 20 Council of Europe member states have ratified this instrument.


Contrary to its authors' expectations, the Charter has not become the social equivalent of the Human Rights Convention and ratification of it is not a prequisite of Council of Europe membership. Efforts should be made to overcome the reluctance of states for which social rights are not a part of human rights, in order not to neglect the role and possibilities of the Charter in defining the European social model which ought to accompany the economic Europe of the merchants.


The Social Charter has recently been revised and the provisions concerning children improved; it is not yet in force. In the course of the revision, however, a protocol was devised enabling certain trade unions and NGOs to lodge collective complaints against breaches of Charter undertakings.


Hopefully, this protocol, which represents a great step forward in involving the public in monitoring the application of an international treaty, will soon come into force. However, genuine consultation of children would entail finding appropriate representative agencies. Associations which speak on their behalf are usually made up of adults and national legislation does not normally grant the right of association to children.


It would certainly be in the Council of Europe's interest to give the Social Charter fresh impetus, along the lines of what is done at ILO, fitting it out with accompanying measures and programmes of assistance. This is particularly true in relation to the new member countries.


The IPEC (founded with German funding in 1991) is an ILO technical cooperation programme which complements standard-setting and information activities. It numbers 10 donor countries and is active in 26 countries worldwide. Since 1997, there has been a similar programme for French-speaking Black Africa, funded by Canada, Belgium and Luxembourg.


Child labour has been a constant concern of ILO. The standards it has drawn up are founded on moral concern, the idea that childhood is a time for training and personal development, and the correlation between child labour and under-employment. Convention N░138 which sets 15 as the minimum age for employment and 18 for dangerous work, is allegedly too complex and has been ratified by only 51 states.


ILO's committee of experts accordingly uses Convention N░29 on the prohibition of forced labour as an instrument for tackling child labour, based on the assumption that children consent only to light work. This Convention has been ratified by 140 states, but it was not drafted for this purpose and is not suitable for combating all forms of exploitation of child labour.


The current idea is to supplement this convention with an instrument aimed at the most intolerable forms of child labour. It would define forms of labour to be outlawed immediately (slavery, sale of children, forced or compulsory labour, prostitution, pornography, illegal activities such as drug trafficking, dangerous work, etc). Once ratified, states would be obliged to take immediate measures to remove children from the offending situations and to prevent them falling victim to them again. In addition, the contracting parties would be required to organise cooperation with each other and to carry out international programmes for the abolition of child labour.


In February 1997 (26-27) a conference was organised on this subject in Amsterdam, which the rapporteur attended.


Child labour must also engage member states' attention in the framework of the World Trade organisation (WTO). It is difficult to accept that the same states adopt different attitudes from one international organisation to another and they must take a coherent line, whether in the Council of Europe, ILO or WTO.


The final declaration of WTO's ministerial conference in Singapore makes only one reference to basic labour standards. ILO wanted a firmer commitment. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in Recommendation 1308 (1996), urged the inclusion of social clauses in the WTO agreements. But the debate is not closed; it will continue in connection with the definition of fair conditions of trade.


Public opinion is very divided over the issue of boycotting countries which use child labour. The Assembly, as a political body, must reject the systematic imposition of trade sanctions on developing countries, because of the perverse effects they have on the children themselves. It must, however, continue to argue for the application of the minimum standards of a number of basic ILO conventions, particularly those on child labour, but also those on labour relations and the development of trade union forces.


In the developing countries, strong trade unions would be better able to defend the interests of the adult work force and combat child labour. At the Social Affairs Committee's hearing in Paris, the European Trade Union Confederation said it wished to help awaken Europe's conscience, quoting the example of a programme it had devised with NGOs for a European label to combat child labour in the textile industry.


The Assembly should encourage the member states to take a more constructive approach and ask them, through the Committee of Ministers, to couple their commercial relations with developing countries with incentives to comply in time with these basic conventions. Trade sanctions should be used as a last resort and only on a multilateral basis.




I. Introduction

Regulatory Framework


In recent years the issue of economic exploitation of children has received increasing attention. In particular the media have drawn attention to examples of gross exploitation of children in Asia, Africa and South America. Public concern has been mobilised in Western Europe and North America, and with it a political will for action.


The idea of exploitative child labour as a social evil has deep roots in European culture, as seen for example in the writings of Dostoevsky, Dickens, Hauptmann and Zola. European social history over the last century has seen the progressive reduction in the economic exploitation of children. Labour force regulations to protect children, and provision of universal compulsory basic education have become the norm. All European countries now have laws designed to regulate the minimum age of work, while primary enrolment rates in all countries are above 80% (table 1).


A European consensus on child labour is also found in international legislation. The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified by all European countries and includes a specific article on economic exploitation (article 32):

"1. States Parties recognise the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

2. States Parties shall take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation of the present article. To this end, and having regard to the relevant provisions of international instruments, States Parties shall in particular:

  1. Provide for a minimum age or minimum ages for admission to employment;

  2. Provide for appropriate regulation of hours of employment;

  3. Provide for appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure the enforcement of the present article."

(Written by consultant Dr Chris Smith, Oxford (UK) with thanks to Jo Boyden, Kristina Schellinski (UNICEF) and Gunter Lochne (ILO) for their useful comments).


The European Social Charter of the Council of Europe also covers child labour in some detail (Article 7):

"With a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right of children and young persons to protection, the Contracting Parties undertake:

  1. to provide that the minimum age of admission to employment shall be fifteen years, subject to exceptions for children employed in prescribed light work without harm to their health, morals or education;

  2. to provide that a higher minimum age of admission to employment shall be fixed with respect to prescribed occupations regarded as dangerous or unhealthy;

  3. to provide that persons who are still subject to compulsory education shall not be employed in such work as would deprive them of the full benefit of their education;

  4. to provide that the working hours of persons under sixteen years of age shall be limited in accordance with the needs of their development, and in particular with their need for vocational training;

  5. to recognise the right of young workers and apprentices to a fair wage and other appropriate allowances;

  6. to provide that the time spent by young persons in vocational training during normal working hours with the consent of the employer shall be treated as forming part of the working day;

  7. to provide that employed persons of under eighteen years of age shall be entitled to not less than three weeks' annual holiday with pay;

  8. to provide that persons under eighteen years of age shall not be employed in night work with the exception of certain occupations prescribed by national laws or regulations;

  9. to provide that persons under eighteen years of age employed in occupations prescribed by national regulations shall be subject to regular medical control;

  10. to ensure special protection against physical and moral dangers to which children and young persons are exposed, and particularly against those resulting directly or indirectly from their work."


Defining Child Labour


Not all child work is harmful to a child's well-being. Rather child work involves a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum, some kinds of work are wholly beneficial to a child's health and development, teaching skills, building self-esteem, building a sense of solidarity and loyalty within a family and providing a bridge to the adult world of work. At the other end of the spectrum is work that is wholly detrimental to a child, such as bonded labour, commercial sexual exploitation *, sexual and physical abuse in the workplace and hazardous industrial work. " While there can be no clear-cut, universal definition for where, along the spectrum, child work becomes unacceptable, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (article 32) defines the three areas where the child has a right to protection:


What is clear is that certain types of child work are wholly unacceptable. As a priority, efforts must be focussed on first dealing with these categories of severe exploitation.


Much exploitative child work is invisible, operating in informal and illegal economies, which makes exact data on child work and child labour hard to obtain. Still, it is known that, on a global scale, there is a massive problem affecting perhaps 250 million children in the developing world.(2) Main categories of work where children are exploited include domestic service, where exploitative conditions and physical and sexual abuse are common, commercial sexual exploitation, forced and bonded labour, family work, agricultural work, work in hazardous industries and street work of various kinds.


II. Child labour in Europe



Child work is an established feature of European culture. Unpaid work in the family, and certain types of paid work are commonplace for young people and approved of by society. While all European countries have legislation designed to ensure a basic education and protect a child from exploitative employment (Table 1), in practice unacceptable exploitation of children is occurring in most - if not all - countries in Europe to some degree. Many of these categories of exploitation have remained fairly invisible, and it important that the interest now shown in the issue globally also highlights the needs of European children. The following examples are illustrative and not considered inclusive. Much if not most of European child labour has not yet been documented.


In the UK a number of surveys have estimated that around 50 % of children aged 13-15 are engaged in some kind of part-time employment, most of them working illegally without formal registration, and thus without an assessment of whether their employment in exploitative. A 1985 survey showed that children were employed in a wide range of jobs in service provision sectors and that many children had more than one job.(3) Child prostitution is a major problem and a common source of income for homeless children. Many of the 75,000 missing children in England are at risk from prostitution. There is also a growing number of street children in large UK cities who live and work under extremely hazardous conditions, at high risk of abuse and criminalisation. Conditions of children working in agriculture have also been noted as problematic. For poor families in the UK, the income from child work can make an important contribution to the household budget.


Italy is considered to have one of the highest populations of working children in Western Europe, estimated at 1.5 million children.(4) Southern Italy has a higher prevalence of child labour, associated with the region's poverty and underdevelopment. Enforcement of school attendance is weak, as is the labour inspection system and the implementation of labour law. There is a demand for child labour in small industrial workshops and in agriculture with no registration or regulation, where children work in unhealthy and unsafe conditions. A sample survey of the 100,000 child workers in Naples showed that most work more than 6 hours per day for less than one third of the equivalent adult wage, without the benefits to which adults are entitled. The leather industry is considered particularly hazardous.


In Spain there are perhaps 1.5 million illegal child workers,(5) with an estimated 200,000 children under 14 years working illegally in the informal sector, including family businesses and agriculture. Seasonal harvesting work in Spain and by Spaniards in France frequently takes children out of school for months at a time. Small subcontracting businesses, and in particular in the shoe industry, are known to use child labour. Other areas of child work include street selling, shoe-cleaning, begging and various forms of refuse and waste collection. A similar pattern is reported in Portugal.(6)


Europe is home to around six million Roma, scattered throughout the continent (Table 2). Roma children are particularly vulnerable to economic exploitation as the Roma economy tends to be based around extended family businesses in the field of metal work, scrap dealing, horse dealing, entertainment, agriculture and begging. In all of these spheres children are commonly employed, often on a full-time basis, after the age of 12, after which school drop out rates are high and adult literacy low. In many countries Roma children work in organised gangs, involving petty theft (bag-snatching, pickpocketing, burglary). In Italy, children are smuggled into the country from the former Yugoslavia to work as forced labourers in such gangs, where they are trained and then sold to the crime rings in the large cities .


In Bulgaria the plight of predominantly Roma children working in the streets of the major cities has been documented by human rights organisations and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.(7) Bulgarian street children work in begging, odd jobs, waste material collection, prostitution and theft. In Bulgaria attention has been drawn to the abuse and torture of these children by the law enforcement authorities and by skinhead street gangs. The example illustrates that working street children and child labourers in general are highly vulnerable to abuse and criminalisation precisely because they work in an unregulated or illegal sector.


A recent survey of child work in Romania(8) covered children aged 7-15 in schools, residential institutions and street children. For the first two categories about 6% of the children were working more than 6 hours/day. Main types of work were domestic work, agriculture, begging, delivery work and loading/unloading goods. Street children were also employed in these professions in addition to prostitution.


Little data is available on child labour in other Central and Eastern European countries. However, given rising levels of poverty and a decreasing monetary value of social security payments, conditions are likely to supply of child labour of various kinds. Deregulation of the economy has created many new opportunities for child work, while exposure to the world media has increased children's's awareness of their relative poverty, creating desire for extra money to purchase newly available commodities. Illegal child labour has been reported in Romania, Hungary and Poland.(9) A recent ILO report stated that child labour was on rise in Central and Eastern Europe, including involvement in organised drug trafficking and prostitution.(10)


Turkey is one of the few European countries where the ILO has conducted a country study of child labour through the International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC). A 1994 study reported almost 2 million children working as salaried family members, 800,000 of whom were under 16 years of age. Compulsory schooling in Turkey ends at 12 years, by which time many children begin work in family businesses and in particular in agriculture.


The Need for Information


The above examples show a notable lack of accurate data on child labour in Europe. This is illustrated by the low quality and quality of information available. The examples illustrate some of the problems, but in no way adequately qualify or explain the causes of these phenomena. The economic exploitation of children in many parts of Europe has very low public or political visibility. There is a need for systematic collection of data and dissemination of the findings so that public awareness and public policy can be better informed.


Such research should identify, for each country, those categories of child labour which are most unacceptable and which represent a priority for control. The limited data reviewed above suggest that these categories might include:

  1. Forced labour and child trafficking;

  2. Commercial sexual exploitation;

  3. Unacceptable working conditions in manufacturing industries (long hours, dangerous conditions, sexual and physical abuse);

  4. Employment conditions in domestic service;

  5. Working street children;

  6. Agricultural labour conditions.


Country appraisal methods developed by the ILO through the IPEC programme could usefully be applied to more European countries.


Policy response to such exploitation must be carefully considered to ensure the best interest of the children involved, and may include appraisal of the role of the juvenile justice, social protection and education systems in helping working children. In many cases a law enforcement approach alone is unlikely to be effective. Models developed for working with child labour elsewhere in the world should also be considered for Europe.


III. Combatting Global Child Labour

The Need for a Multiple Strategy Approach


There is no simplistic solution to combat global child labour, and it is not realistic to expect a labour inspection/ regulation system alone to solve the problem . Inspection will often not be able to contend with the powerful vested interests which perpetuate child labour, while much of child labour occurs within families and in rural areas, where routine inspection is not feasible. In addition, it must be remembered that children often choose to work as a response to severe poverty in their families. Children and their families must be offered an alternative way of coping if a particular form of child work is to be stopped.


In recent years human rights and international development agencies have drawn attention to the prevalence of economic exploitation of children in Asia, Africa and Latin America, stimulating public concern. Policy responses developed by international agencies have combined direct work with the children and families concerned, provision of relevant basic education, legislation and inspection reforms, poverty alleviation and social mobilisation. These programmes have the aim of releasing children from most damaging forms of labour while ensuring their rehabilitation; protection of children who cannot be released from labour; and reduction in recruitment of new child labourers into exploitative work. This comprehensive approach has been endorsed by both the ILO and UNICEF, the two leading UN agencies in this field, who both are agreed on a package of policies which are needed to address unacceptable child labour effectively(11):

  1. basic education should be made more relevant to the needs of poor families and more flexible for the needs of working children;

  2. programmes are needed to work directly with working children in order to help them better meet their health and development needs;

  3. national legislation should include basic standards on what is acceptable and unacceptable child work. Where practical, monitoring and inspection will play an important role for some categories of work;

  4. programmes should give families alternative options to child labour when coping with poverty. Education, training, income generation and literacy programmes will play a part in such programmes;

  5. social mobilisation programmes may, in the long run, be the most effective, as child labour can only finally be contained when societies' values change about what is acceptable for children. (12)


Trade Sanctions


One international policy response to child labour has been the idea of trade sanctions - that trade with a country, or company, should be made conditional upon the eradication of child labour in that country or company. Support for such measures comes from organisations calling for more ethical trading, including trade unions. It has been suggested that Europe might begin to impose trade sanctions on this basis. The approach has a number of important problems:

  1. Illegal child work is a worldwide phenomenon, affecting countries throughout Europe. Trade bans of particular countries would appear hypocritical.

  2. The distinction between child work and child labour is important. In all countries, child work of various kinds is sanctioned by society as a good thing, including work which is technically illegal under national law. In practice these laws are not enforced scrupulously for certain types of paid employment. Children working in their spare time when not in school is a commonplace phenomenon, and is sanctioned by both children and adult society. Many kinds of work are beneficial for children and do not amount to economic exploitation.

  3. Children employed by export industries in developing countries only comprise a small proportion of child workers in those countries. Sanctions only targeting export industries would not effect the vast majority of child workers in those countries. Often conditions for children in these export industries are better than in other sectors.

  4. Sanctions may result in the conditions of children becoming worse. Unless families are provided with better alternatives for coping with poverty, child labour will continue, and excluding children from one form of employment may simply force them into more hazardous and exploitative conditions. The good intentions behind the idea is sanctions may have the opposite effect to that intended.


An important case study of the effect of the threat of trade sanctions was conducted in Bangladesh(13), one of the poorest countries in the world. In Bangladesh 15% of children die before reaching their fifth birthday, and less that 50% of children complete five grades at school(14). Malnutrition and hunger are endemic. Bangladesh has the highest reported levels of protein calorie malnutrition and underweight births in the world(15). Large pockets of extreme poverty exist in Bangladeshi urban slums.


The garment industry is an important employer of unskilled labour: in the crushing poverty of Bangladesh, obtaining work in the garment industry is valued, especially for women who comprise 80% of the garment industry workforce. The industry provides a safe place where women can be employed in relative safety. Children under 15 years of age work in the industry, perhaps comprising 5% of the workforce, mainly working in light finishing work. A survey of these children showed that most had to work in order to meet basic family expenses, and one fifth of the children were the sole breadwinner for their families. Early recruitment into the garment industry is seen by poor families as beneficial, providing entry into a prestigious and well-paid industry, and allowing the children to learn the skill of the trade on the job. Children may stay with the same firm throughout their adult life. Some factories provide social services to their young employees, including on-site schooling and training and medical care, and this trend had been gradually growing through the 1980s and early 1990s.


In 1992 legislation was proposed in the US, backed by US trade unions, which would ban the import of products from companies which employed children under 15 years of age ("The Harkin Bill") . Since the US is a major market for the Bangladesh garment industry, the possible loss of this market was perceived as a disaster for the companies and for the Bangladesh economy as a whole. The threat of sanctions caused panic in the industry and over a period of a few months perhaps 55,000 children were dismissed.


Follow-up studies on the fate of these children show that none returned to school, and indeed few had ever attended school. They had no choice but to seek work elsewhere. Main alternative forms of work available were less well paid, less secure and more hazardous, in particular for girls, for whom main employment alternatives were domestic service, brick chipping, rickshaw pulling, street selling and prostitution. A petition was published in the local press signed by 100 dismissed garment workers:(16)


Our fellow young workers who were terminated from the garment industry in the previous months have either become child prostitutes or brick breakers or garbage collectors and so on..... Now it is our humanitarian appeal to all of you to allow us to continue our light work for 5-6 hours a day and give us an opportunity to attend schools for 2-3 hours a day. If you find child workers in any hazardous/heavy work, you may bring them back to light work .. Don't throw away onto the street those of us who are already involved in light work


The Bangladesh case illustrates the dangers of using trade sanctions against companies employing children. The threat of sanctions did not solve the child labour problem, and simply pushed children into more hazardous occupations not related to export industries.


Trading Codes of Conduct


Some multinational corporations have developed codes of conduct governing their choice of trading partners, intended to guarantee that working conditions will not violate the rights of children. The Bangladesh case shows that these codes need to be worked out carefully in the countries concerned to ensure that the interests of children are not harmed and that, where children are put out of work, there is a system in place for their rehabilitation and future employment. For example, Levi-Straus have a "Business Partner Terms of Engagement" which generally precludes trading with companies employing children below the age of fourteen"; however, the terms allow flexibility to adapt to local customs, laws and values.(17) In Bangladesh local companies argued that employing some young children was a social good, and redundancy would cause severe hardship. A compromise was worked out whereby children would be removed from the factory and placed in education till 14, when they would be rehired. This provides an example of an attempt to adapt general codes to the specific needs of the children involved in a responsible manner. UNICEF(18) has provided several other examples of such codes of conduct, where the welfare of the children concerned is given due attention.


IV. Conclusion: priorities for action.


In 1996 the Council of Europe Steering Committee for Employment and Labour published a study entitled "Children and Labour in Europe".(19) The report relied on secondary sources and interviews with government officials to present a profile of child employment issues in Europe, and concluded with a wide-ranging series of proposals which had the aim of strengthening the protection of children in Europe against economic exploitation, which are summarised below:

  1. A clear national policy in each European country should be developed to better protect children from economic exploitation. Policy should be comprehensive, coherent, coordinated, planned, interdisciplinary and preventive.

  2. Systematic research needs to be undertaken on nearly all areas regarding children and work in Europe.

  3. Legislation should be reviewed to better enforce the protection of children.

  4. The efficacy of labour inspection services should be improved;

  5. A range of other agencies should become more involved in the protection of working children.

  6. The Council of Europe should work to :

  1. Define a comprehensive international policy on children and work, including a system of regular reporting by member states;

  2. Develop a programme of technical cooperation for Central, Eastern and Southern Europe in order to improve legislation, develop national policy, and reorganise and strengthen the labour inspection system;

  3. This policy should be part of an overall goal to help economic development, improve standards of health and education, strengthen political will to abolish the exploitation of child labour, and make society fully aware of the seriousness of the problem.


This current review generally endorses these recommendations, and in addition , proposes that the following priorities are set for immediate action:


a. Situation Analysis

A proper understanding of the problem is the first step to planning and advocacy. At present child labour is poorly studied. Research should be undertaken in all European countries, where necessary in cooperation with the IPEC (ILO) programme, UNICEF, and NGOs, with the aim of identifying the most unacceptable forms of child labour in each country and its causes, and developing policy proposals to address these categories of child exploitation. The analysis should include a thorough review of the role which the education system can play in tackling child labour, and should thorough consultations with working children to ensure that their views are taken into consideration in framing a policy response (Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child).

This work could form part of the overall European Strategy for Children which has been proposed by the Assembly(20).


b. Trade Sanctions

The Assembly could recommend that unilateral trade sanctions are not to be considered as a measure to combat child labour, as this would be both hypocritical and could harm the best interests of the children involved. Rather, control of child labour outside Europe can better be supported through international cooperation to support integrated control programmes combining upgrading of education, legislative reform, poverty alleviation and social mobilisation strategies.


c. Focus on most Unacceptable Abuse

1997 may be a watershed year for child labour, with important international events aiming to shape global policies. It is essential that the political will that this will generate be channelled in an effective way for the world's children. The broad issue of child work and child labour is complex and controversial. There is a danger that, faced with this complexity, policy makers lose sight of immediate need and priorities: addressing those forms of exploitation which are clearly unacceptable. In a recent joint publication of the ILO and UNICEF, two of the world's most senior and experienced experts in the field of child labour, A. Bequelle and W.E. Myers, ended with a telling "personal note":

(Our frustration) arises from our concern with the perverse tendency for attention to drift away form the children most urgently needing help and towards far less important groups and issues. Those of us concerned about working children often end up debating doctrinal questions which divide us - such as whether a child who sells papers before school should be exempted from child labour legislation - while millions of children continue to languish in horrendous and even deadly situations which all of us agree should be ended forthwith ... severely endangered children should have first call on our concern and energy.


Table 1. Education and Labour Legislation Data for European Countries.

Country Age Limit for Compulsor y Education % Primary School Children Reaching Grade 5 Secondary School Enrolment Ratio Basic Minimum Age for Work Minimum age for light work Minimum Age for Dangerous/Haza rdous Work


6-14 92 78 16 12 16-18


6-15 97 106 15 12 16-18


6-18   103 14 13-14 16-21


7-16 93 68 16 15 18


7-15 98 83 15   generally no


6-15     15 no limit 16-18

Czech Rep.

6-15 98 87 15   18


7-15 100 113 15 13 15-18


7-17 100 91      


7-15 100 120 15 14 16-18


6-16 96 106 16 12-14 16-18


6-18 100 100 15 13 18


6-15 100 99 15   16-18


6-16 98 81 15 14 16-18


7-15 ~100   15 14 18-19


6-15 100 105 15 14 18


6-13 100 81 14-15 14 15-18


7-15 - 87 15 13 18


7-16 94 78      


6-15 -   15   18


5-16 ~100   15-16   18


6-17 70   - - -


5-16   123 15 13-15 18


7-15 100 116 15-16 13 18


7-14 100 85 15 15 18


6-15   68 16 14 18


6-14 93 82 14-16   16-18


7-17   87 15 14 18

San Marino

6-13     16 14  


6-15 97 89 15   18


7-15 100 89 15    


6-15 96 113 16   18


7-15 98 99 16 13 18


7-15 100 91 15 13 16-18

FYR Macedonia



6-12 89 61 15 13 18


7-15   80 15-16   17-18

United Kingdom

5-16   93 13-16   16-18



Table 2. Roma Population in Europe (1985)(21)

Country Population ('000s) Country Population

Former Yugoslavia

850 Germany 87
Romania 760 Albania 80
Spain 745 Poland 70
Hungary 560 Netherlands 40
Turkey 545 Switzerland 35
USSR 530 Belgium 20
Bulgaria 475 Austria 19
Czechoslovakia 410 Ireland 18
France 260 Sweden 15
Greece 140 Finland 8
Italy 120 Norway 5
Portugal 105 Denmark 5
UK 90 TOTAL 5,991



Reporting committee: Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee

Budgetary implications for the Assembly: none

Reference to committee: Doc. 7678 and Reference No. 2133 of 7 November 1996

Draft recommendation unanimously adopted by the committee on 30 May 1997

Members of the committee: Mr Gusenbauer (Chairman), Mrs Ragnarsdottir, Mr Gross (Vice-Chairmen), Mr About, Mrs Albrink, Mr Alis Font, Mrs Andnor, Mr Arnau, Mrs Aytaman, Mr Banks (Alternate: Cox), Mrs Belohorska, Mrs Biga-Friganovic, Sir Bowden, MM. Bugli, De Carolis, Christodoulides, Chyzh, Dees, Dinšer, Djerov, Mrs Fleetwood, Mrs Gatterer, MM. Geoffroy, Haack, Hegyi, Mrs H°egh, Baroness Hooper, MM. Jacquat, Janecek, Mrs Jirousova, MM. Keller, Kotlar, Mrs Kusnere, Mrs Laternser, Mr Leitner, Mrs Lucyga, Mrs Luhtanen, MM. Lupu, Malachowski, Marmazov, Martelli, Mrs Maximus, MM. Moliviatis, Mozgan, Nestor, Niza, Oleinik, MM. Pattison, Pošas Santos, Mrs Poptodorova, Mrs Pozza Tasca, Mme Pulgar, MM. Raskinis, Regenwetter, Sceberras Trigona (Alternate: Vella), Sharapov, Sincai, Skoularikis, Valk, Valkeniers (Alternate: Weyts, Vice-Chairman), Mme Vermot-Mangold (Alternate: Mme Fehr), MM. Volodin, Wielowieyski.

N.B. The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in italics

Secretaries to the committee: Mr Perin and Ms Meunier

Note: 1by the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee

Note: 2UNICEF (1997) State of the Worlds Children 1997. UNICEF.

Note: 3 Data on UK from Maclennan, E. (1985) Working Children. London Low Pay Unit; and Fyfe, A. (1989) Child Labour. Polity Press.

Note: 4. Data on Italy taken from Valcarenghi, M. (1981) Child Labour in Italy. Antislavery Society, London; and Fyfe, A. (1989) op.cit.

Note: 5 Data on Spain from Fyfe, A. (1989) op.cit..; and Searight, S. (1980) Child Labour in Spain. Antislavery Society, London.

Note: 6 Williams, S (1992) Child workers in Portugal. Anti-slavery International, London.

Note: 7 Committee on the Rights of the Child (1997) Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 44 of the Convention. Concluding Observations: Bulgaria. CRC/C/Add.66

Note: 8 Save the Children Romania (1997) Inquiry into Child Labour and Child Work in Romania. SCF, Bucharest (english summary only).

Note: 9 Council of Europe (1996) Children and Work in Europe. COE Publishing, Strasbourg.

Note: 10 ILO (1997) Combatting the Most Intolerable forms of Child Labour: A Global Challenge. Prepared for the Amsterdam Child Labour Conference, Feb 1997. ILO, Geneva.

Note: 11 See UNICEF (1997) op. cit., ILO (1996) Child Labour. Targeting the Intolerable. ILO, Geneva; and Bequelle, A. and Myers, W.E. (1995) First Things First in Child Labour. Eliminating Work Detrimental to Children. UNICEF and ILO, Geneva.

Note: 12 See ILO (1996) op. cit., UNICEF (1997), op. cit., and Bequelle, A. And Myers, W.E. (1995) op. cit.

Note: 13 The case study is reported in Boyden, J. and Myers, W (1995). Exploring Alternative Approaches to Combatting Child Labour. Innocenti Child Rights Series, no. 8. UNICEF, Florence.

Note: 14 UNICEF (1997) op.cit...

Note: 15 According to UNICEF (1997) op.cit.... 50% of births were underweight, (indicative of maternal malnutrition), 67% of infants were underweight and 63% were stunted. These comprised the highest levels of malnutrition for all those countries where data was reported.

Note: 16 Quoted in Boyden and Myers (1995) op. cit.

Note: 17 ibid.

Note: 18 UNICEF (1977) op.cit...

Note: 19 Council of Europe (1996) op. cit.

Note: 20 Recommendation 1286 (1996) on a European Strategy for Children, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Note: 21 Puxton (1987) Roma, Europe's Gypsies. Minority Rights Group, London.

* The Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee is currently preparing a report on sexual exploitation of children