Create a coherent policy on the elimination of child labour linked to the provision of full-time, formal education for all children up to 14 years of age.

Full-time, free and compulsory education up to the minimum age of at least 14 years of age is the first and foremost solution in the eradication of child labour. This is widely recognised nowadays. However it is often not recognised that providing education itself is not enough to bring all working and other out-of-school children to school.

Child labour and the social norms related to it are also preventing many children from participating in the full-time education that other children of their age enjoy. Therefore the right to education and reaching the goal of 'Education for All' also implies strategies to bring all working and other out-of-school children into full-time formal education and to keep them there (see for specifics under point 2). Of course the best way to prevent child labour is by enrolling and retaining them in full-time quality education. But also if the child has missed first class or has dropped out of school, strategies are needed to see to it that he or she still can have access to quality full-time education.

Accepting that children combine long hours of work with part-time 'literacy courses' and non-formal education in evening classes, amounts to discrimination of these children and a denial of their rights as laid down in several international treaties. Children should therefore, where-ever there is such a system, be absorbed by or mainstreamed into the existing full-time formal education system. Non-formal education should only be used as a short-term bridge to formal education and not as an 'alternative' for working children and other out-of-school children. Shortcomings of the formal education system are not a valid argument for part-time 'alternative education' for working children. Instead these shortcomings should lead to a reform of the system in order to be able to absorb all children of school-going age.

As yet there is no comprehensive policy and strategy of the European Union, Ireland, The Netherlands and Germany on the linkage between the child labour and the provision of free, full-time and formal education. The European Commission has stated that 'Providing the largest possible number of children with access to school is also a way of combating child labour , and of complying with Convention 182 prohibiting the worst forms of child labour, which is among the fundamental ILO Conventions to whose implementation the Community is committed'.
However the EU and its members are also party to the other human rights instruments mentioned below, and are therefore obliged to come up with broader rights-based policy and programmes to contribute to its implementation, in order that all working children can go to school.

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes education as a fundamental right. Moreover any policy to eliminate child labour and implement the right to education should be based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which calls for compulsory and free primary education, protection from performing any work that interferes with education and a minimum age for access to paid work. The CRC has been ratified by 191 countries. The two countries who have not signed yet, Somalia and the USA, have recently signalled their willingness to do so.
The Minimum Age Convention 138 of the International Labour Organisation specifies the relation between child labour and education by determining that the general minimum age for entry into employment should not be less than the age of completion of compulsory education and in any case should not be less than 15. Developing countries may apply a minimum age of no less than 14 years. This convention has been ratified by 124 countries.
The Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, adopted in 1999 and now ratified by 137 countries, calls for effective and time-bound measures to 'ensure access to free basic education ... for all children removed from the worst forms of child labour'. Finally, recently (April 2003) the UN Human Rights Commission adopted a resolution, without a vote, on the right to education. The resolution is urging states, among other things, 'to promote the renewal and expansion of formal education of good quality, and to use inclusive and innovative approaches to increase attendance for all'.

One would expect that this combined set of rights-based instruments would guide the policy of governments, the European Union, the UN agencies and the World Bank. Where the issue working of children is concerned however, most international agencies, including the World Bank, ILO, UNICEF and UNESCO, mainly work in their programming from the perspective of the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (No. 182). They focus to a large extent on eliminating the most intolerable forms of child labour, non-formal part-time education, the first four years of schooling and a combination of work and education. Whenever primary education is funded by international donors, very often either working children are not specifically addressed or they are addressed via 'alternative schooling' that combines work with some form of part-time non-formal education. Most governments and the European Union follow this approach. The total elimination of child labour and the realisation of full-time education for every child is generally not seen as a realistic goal in the short and medium run. This is despite evidence on the contrary provided by experiences of Indian states like Kerala and Andhra Pradesh (the work of the MV Foundation) and the Bolsa Escola Programme in Brazil.
It is only recently that ILO-IPEC has placed greater emphasis on mainstreaming children into formal education, for example in its recent programme with the Government of India and the US Department of Labor and in its programme on 'child labour and education'.

Ensure that the European Union members work together to allocate at least 8% of Overseas Development Aid to formal primary education, including strategies to integrate all out-of-school children into the education system.

At present the European Union disburses 4,1% of the combined general budget of the Commission and the European Development Fund on education in developing countries (see: draft Motion For A Resolution of the European Parliament on 'education and training in the context of poverty reduction in developing countries' by rapporteur M. van den Berg). The resolution urges that the budget for education should be increased to at least 8%. It is not clear however if this percentage is referring to all forms of education (including higher education) or only to primary (formal) education for children up to 14. We clearly urge for the latter and further stipulate that part of this money should be used to finance strategies to integrate out-of-school children into the education system.

The overall framework or starting point for such strategies is the leading principle that it is necessary and possible to withdraw children in the age group of 5 to 14 years from work and send them to school. The policy of the EU and its member states with regard to funding education programmes, should therefore be to strengthen the formal education system(s) for which the state has the final responsibility as well as support inclusive approaches that expand this responsibility to all out-of-school children up to at least 14 years of age. Formal education does not mean that the type of teaching is 'formal' and dull, but that there is an overall and final responsibility of the state to provide full-time education of a specified minimum quality to every child.
The European Union and its member states should therefore not support education projects and programmes that undermine this goal. Presently funded 'alternative streams of education' should be redirected into support for formal education and programmes that (re)integrate working and other out-of-school children into such education. Of course all funding education by foreign aid should, in our opinion, be gradually phased out in order to reach sustainable self-financing by the governments of developing countries themselves.
Local or state authorities that give no priority to regular full-time primary education should not be reinforced in their approach of non-formal education by funding from the EU and its members. However, support could and should be given to those organisations, either governmental or non-governmental and including teachers' unions, that do have a vision, programme and strategy to provide primary education to all children but at the same time link these programmes to building up, expanding and or revitalising the formal education system(s) under the final responsibility of the state.

The European Union, international agencies like ILO, UNICEF, UNESCO, UNDP and governmental donor agencies must provide the international policy framework to enable and promote the above at the national levels. With the conviction that all children should and can be in full-time formal schools the right of children to education will become a reality.

Lessons learnt by the MV Foundation (MVF) - India

A striking example how working and other out-of-school children can be integrated into the formal school system is provided by the MV Foundation in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. They have worked for the past ten years in over 500 villages. In 400 villages every child in the 5 to 11 age group is in full-time schooling, 168 of those villages are now child labour free (every child up to 14 goes to school). Family poverty is shown not to be the main barrier to education, as the loss of income of the child is usually more than compensated by the improved bargaining position and income of the parents. This happens if 'cheap children' are massively withdrawn from the labour market as is the case in the working area of MVF.

The state government of Andhra Pradesh, a poor state with 70 million inhabitants, has taken over the approach of the MV Foundation and aims for zero child labour and all children in school. A law for compulsory education and prohibition of child labour is on the anvil.

On the basis of their own 10-year experience the MV Foundation has learnt the following more general lessons:

  • Strategies to integrate children into full-time schools start by social mobilisation and the involvement of all stakeholders, be they teachers, parents, officials or the children themselves, around the norm that no child must work and that all children must attend full-time formal schools. This implies in the first place active mobilisation of all parents with children of school going age to send their children to school. Sometimes this goes against ideas of certain communities as well as the broader society that school is not meant for children of their community, girls, certain caste or ethnic group etc. It might also go against vested interests or ways of thinking of employers, local authorities and even parents themselves. However, almost all parents also are keen that their children receive proper education, even though they might have lost faith that the education system will provide this to them or 'their group'. Therefore efforts at several levels are needed to restore this faith.

  • Through social and possibly political mobilisation the education system itself should become geared to the objective of getting all out-of-school children to school. For that institutional arrangements should be made to withdraw children from work, either through residential bridge courses or transitional classes in regular schools in order to be able to enter and cope with a class according to their age. Such transitional education is started at the local level and has also now become part of the education policy of the Andhra Pradesh government itself.

  • Such transitional education often implies changes in the administrative framework of regular school that now often does not accept children who are older or want to enter school during the year. They should start accepting these children and integrate them. Schools should also in other ways be sensitive to the requirements of what are often first generation learners. Bureaucratic hurdles that are a big, often insurmountable, burden for illiterate parents like filling up forms, procurement of birth certificates etc. should become the responsibility of the school or the larger education system. Wherever necessary arrangements should be made for the provision of buses to enable children to go to schools farther away from home. Many working children now travel long distances to reach their work, and would, if needed, also do so if there is a reliable travel arrangement to go to school.

  • Another important element is the presence of a strong Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and/or School Education Committee (SEC) and support of other local bodies to monitor and act upon the situation in schools and the status of children out of schools. Also the active involvement of youth volunteers from the community, often first generation learners themselves, has a great impact on the motivation of children to want to go to school. Girls often require a greater support from the community and more intensive campaigning and guidance to enable them to go to school. Involvement of female youth volunteers and female teachers can make a great difference.

  • Working together with teachers and if possible teachers' unions or other organisations is another important element for success. Teachers have to be prepared to carry the extra burden of additional children who come to school. Planning together with them, asking the government and community for additional resources, training and employing additional para-teachers, working on the quality of education, providing 'learning guaranties' to parents and more generally backing teachers up with community support are some of the measures that can create the mutual vision, confidence and hard work that is needed to bring all children to school.

  • Measures like these can start by community organisation at the local level but should ultimately also become part of the policy of the government and integrated in al its policies, whether it is on education, labour or social welfare. Most importantly: the Education Department should be not only be the Department for children already in school, but should have the wider task to educate all children between 5 and 14 years of age. This implies that strategies to integrate all out-of-school children in the education system should primarily be the responsibility of the Education Department.

Make provisions in Overseas Development Aid to ensure that girls and young children from vulnerable groups (including those living in absolute poverty) are integrated into the formal school system.

There is still a wide gap between the percentage of boys and girls that attend primary education. Also young children run the risk of missing out on primary education once they have missed the first class at the age between 5 and 7. This is especially the case with girls and young children from ''vulnerable groups', including children from ethnic or other minorities, children from 'low castes', children with a handicap and more generally children living in absolute poverty.

Even more than the poor in general, it has been the most difficult to get girls to school. This is partly because of widely shared ideas that she does not need to be educated because of her envisaged role of housewife. Also in several societies girls are often married at an early age which interrupts their schooling career. After they reach puberty it is often seen as improper or dangerous for girls to walk somewhat longer distances to school.
Where necessary provisions should be made in development aid programmes to make sure that girls are not discriminated against in education programmes and that where necessary extra efforts are made to bring them into the formal education system.

More generally experience has shown that poverty does not necessarily prevent children from going to school if the school system functions reliably and with a minimum of quality.. Also, large scale elimination of child labour has shown to lead to a better bargaining conditions for adults, resulting in increased wages and more convenient working hours. It has therefore often more than compensated for the lost income of the child. However, there are certainly measures that can help to attract poor children to school and keep them there, while also contributing to poverty alleviation. One such measure is a system of free school meals, especially in those government schools that mainly cater to poor children.

Another measure is to pay for the transitional education, especially the kind that is residential, that allows children to enter formal schools at a later age. In parts of Brazil a minimum monthly income is provided to all families of poor children that are attending full-time school on a regular basis.

It is sometimes suggested that parents of working children who are to be enrolled in school should, as a necessary pre-condition, be compensated for the loss of income. Evidence from India however shows that compensating working children is not necessary to get them to school, if an approach like the one from the MV Foundation is followed. The 'need' to pay parents or children who go to school is, in the absence of financial resources for this, sometimes even used as an argument not to do anything about child labour.

The payment systems that do exist are implemented on a small scale and are often heavily funded by external donors. They are not financially sustainable on a large scale or in the long run. Experience from India also shows that it can lead children who are in regular schools to shift to part-time 'anti-child labour schools' that offer a small financial stipend.

It can be concluded that financial support, apart from free education and possibly free meals, is undesirable if it discriminates between working children and school-going children who might be equally poor. If it is done, like in Brazil, it should be based on the poverty of the household and apply to all families that send their children to full-time schools.

Summing it al all, we strongly believe:

'Stop Child Labour - School is the best place to work'

Alliance 2015 Partners:

  • Hivos, The Netherlands
  • Concern, Ireland Deutsche Welt Hunger Hilfe (German Agro-Action, Germany
  • Netherlands Confederation of Trade Unions (FNV)
  • Dutch Teachers Union, The Netherlands
  • India Committee of the Netherlands

    * Reactions to this paper are invited to improve and expand the explanatory text under the three main demands.

  • Kinderarbeid & Onderwijs

    HOME Landelijke India Werkgroep

    India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - 13 mei 2003