We are the Present, Our Voice Is the Future!
We, the delegates of the Children's World Congress on Child Labour, have come to the city of Florence, Italy, from all different parts of the world, speaking different languages, growing up with different cultures and backgrounds, because we all know that child labour must be eliminated.
Although our Congress has been successful, we are missing same of our important delegates. These children were already selected to participate in the Congress. But these children did not get the visas necessary to come to Italy because the Italian government thought of them as a security risk. The children who were not allowed to attend felt very discriminated against. We all missed their ideas at the Congress, because these children are from the regions where child labour is most common. At the next Congress, we would like to see them participate because their voice is their vision and the world must hear it.
Each country had a different selection process to choose the delegates. All of the children who participated in the selection process had either faced child labour in their own experience or had learned about it and joined the fight against child labour. With the passion and desire to solve this terrible crime against 246 million children around the world, we were all qualified to take part in this Congress. This is why the discussions of the last 3 days have been very fruitful.
It is the responsibility of all, including the business sector and others who hold power, to help us in our struggle.
Before we even start to discuss child labour, we must appreciate that the only way children can have their rights is in a situation of peace. Peace is the most basic human right. We have to ask ourselves why everyone is not able to have something so fundamental? While living in peace, every child has not only a better chance of getting their rights, but also has a stronger potential to improve the world for their generation and for those to come.
When we started discussing child labour, we found that many issues were common to all the different parts of the world.
We heard personal stories from children about:
These children are misused everyday and have no one to speak for them.
While most people and governments are aware that these problems exist, they are hidden or just ignored. This does not change the fact that they all are very dangerous to the physical and mental well being of a child. These forms of child labour must be stopped.
The Roles of Governments and Civil Society
Most of the children said that they are losing faith in the governments because of their empty promises. Governments have made many promises to end child labour through education and better social services. But they do not act. Their promises are not met with real commitment nor resources.
While the governments put an enormous amount of money to weapons and war, there are still children who cannot read or write. They have no homes to live in nor food to eat. Governments must make the needs of children a priority. They must provide all that is necessary to live while still protecting our rights.
As it is the responsibility of governments to protect our rights, end child labour, and provide free, equal education of good quality, we have many demands on governments. When we speak about governments, we talk not only about the role of national governments but also other governmental bodies at international and regional levels that are responsible for protecting our rights.
First and most importantly, governments must listen to children. Governments must make children's issues a priority and include the children in the decision-making that affects our lives. Governments must also provide opportunities for children to participate and express their opinions because they are the future as well as the present and their opinions should be valued.
Governments must criminalise child labour but should never criminalise the children. The children are victims of child labour. Governments must create and carry out laws that strictly punish the adults who have abused children for their own interests. Governments must support children if they want to bring cases of them being used as child labourers to court, by providing a free attorney. Children should be able to turn in the people who have abused them without any fear of getting into trouble. Instead, these children should be rescued and rehabilitated.
Governments must fight against the trafficking of children. They must enforce the laws they already have. But today's laws may not be enough, so they must make more effective ones. The governments in countries where trafficking happens must work together to have laws which can criminalise the traffickers.
Governments must provide compulsory, quality education, free of cost. Schools must provide skilled teachers who are qualified. There should be a mechanism to check that the teachers are doing their jobs well. Laws to provide education for all children must be enforced. Teachers must get paid better. Education must also be provided equally to all children, regardless of gender, race, economic status, religion, place of birth, citizenship, caste, disability, indigenousness or language.
Every country has to make sure that the issue of child labour is taught in every school.
Governments should encourage adults to work. Adults should work so that they have enough money not to have to put their children to work. The rights of adults as workers have to be respected. Adult workers always have to be allowed to unionise in their workplace, because a union can help protect them from dangerous working conditions and ensure them the minimum wage. It is important that adults are protected as workers so that children do not have to work.
Governments must establish a National Plan of Action to end child labour. These plans should be made together with children.
Governments must make sure that overseas development aid (ODA) goes directly to its purpose and does not end up in the wrong hands.
Governments must make a system to put some trademarks on products that are not made by child labourers.
Governments should not only work with other governments, they should also work with the civil society and trade unions, to be at their most effective. In return, civil society must understand the demands of children and work together with us to watch them closely so that govemments will not fail us again. NGOs also have to use the resources that they have honestly and directly for the children.
It is also parents' responsibility to listen to children.
Children need love, respect and dignity. It is in the hands of parents to provide a happy and stable family life. Parents must take up their responsibility and vote. When they vote, they must also speak for the children and vote for someone who respects children's rights. If the parents are not acting in the best interest of the child, the State must act on the child's behalf. Parents must talk about issues such as child sexual exploitation or abuse even when they are not comfortable because this is the only way a child will know his or her natural rights for safety and security. Parents must understand the importance of a proper education, no matter the gender of the child.
Having identified the current situation of child labour and our demands on adults, we now show our commitment and role in ending child labour.
We, the children, have to start initiatives to spread awareness about child labour in our own local communities and villages. We must educate each other about child labour - from a child to a child - in order to promote child participation.
We must work at the national level and establish a Children's Parliament in every country that is not just a symbol but a source of power for children to change the situations that we think are wrong. This Parliament would elect a representative to the country's government. These representatives would also meet at a congress at the regional and at the international level to look at the problems on a larger scale, and report back to their governments and local communities.
We have to start a network of children so that we can keep in contact with each other, in order to be educated about these issues all over the world. Only while working together, can we have the power to take action and end child labour. This network will be made up of children from all over the world, and it will spread the stories of child labour and opinions. The network will help us plan more effective actions in our struggle against child labour. The network will also be a medium to report on governments failing or not failing in their promises to the children of the world.
We believe that the use of art, dance, music and drama as a form of expression and a means to spread awareness about child labour is very important. These are ways in which children from any background can connect with, understand and enjoy. There are many ways to spread the message against child labour, beyond borders, through performing art.
We must also use the media to spread our voices. We could create our own forms of media, such as a newspaper developed by children for children, for us to freely express our opinion. The media must also be more friendly and tell the truth about child labour and help us to combat child labour.
We have to bring the efforts to end child labour out to the villages, where the fight is not as strong. Information about child labour sometimes only reaches the cities and people in the villages do not have information about the dangers of child labour. We must get them involved.
We promise to continue to take action to eliminate child labour and make a better world for children. Now, we ask all of you to join us, because only together can we truly achieve freedom for all. In this friendship, we will create a healthy and peaceful world for all.
Today, the power is in our hands. We define the future.
We are the present and our voice is the future!
12 May 2004