Childrens' rights expert lambasts lack of EU policy on child labour
The EU has "no clear policy" on eradicating child labour in poor countries, according to one of the most prominent children's rights advocates in India.
Shanta Sinha, secretary of the M. Venkatarangaiya Foundation, is visiting Brussels this week to highlight the Stop Child Labour Campaign, founded by anti-poverty activists from the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland. The charities complain that the European Commission has no unit dealing specifically with children's rights and that EU institutions treat child labour and education as separate issues.
"The Commission has no clear policy on the issue of children's rights, especially the right to education," said Sinha, after meeting advisors to External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten. "It is not establishing the link between abolishing child labour and education."
The International Labour Organization estimates that 246 million children in the 5-17 age bracket are working, rather than attending school. Some 60% of these are in Asia, 32% in Africa.
Sinha found that some EU officials she met appeared more interested in findings that reducing child labour can be economically beneficial, as it increases adult employment, rather than arguments about fundamental rights. "The pity of the whole argument is that one has to talk about the spin-off effects, not about how a child suffers from having to work 14-16 hours a day in sweat shops."
Irish aid agency Concern is exhorting the country's EU presidency to raise child labour when it hosts a meeting of the Union's development ministers in June.
The campaign wants major donors, such as the EU and US, to invest €8 billion per year in education in poor countries, pointing out that would be equivalent to just four days of global military expenditure.
In the 2004 EU budget, 20% of all aid earmarked to particular regions is due to be spent on education and health. However, the campaign says the track record on school spending has been poor. In 2002, only 0.33% of the EU's official development assistance went to primary education.
In recognition of her work, Sinha won the Ramon Magsaysay award, which has been described as the Asian Nobel Peace Prize, last year.
Ten years ago, she said, some 40% of children in the southern Indian province of Andhra Pradesh, which has 70 million inhabitants, were not going to school.
Yet concerted efforts by her foundation, other groups and the regional government now mean that parts of the province boast school attendance rates of 95%.