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We urge the Dutch government:
  1. To make good education for all children a priority in the structural bilateral relations with developing countries and consequently allocate at least 8% of development aid for primary education and programmes to get working children to school.
    In this context we make the following recommendations:
    • Make, together with other donors, multi-annual agreements with those governments of developing countries who receive structural bilateral aid and are willing to expand and improve primary education.
    • Make participation of local administration and civil organizations a pre-condition for support to primary education sector.
    • Stimulate that all programmes for primary education supported by The Netherlands have a strategy to give (presently) working children access to quality daytime education.
    • Strengthen the expertise and capacity of the embassies in the field of primary education in countries which receive structural bilateral aid from The Netherlands.
    (explanatory note to point 1)

  2. To support developing countries with the implementation of the Convention against the worst forms of child labour, especially by offering quality education to children working at present.
    In this context we make the following recommendations:
    • Announce before the negotiations in Geneva that The Netherlands is willing to support those developing countries who ratify the Convention and draw up good action programmes for implementation.
    • Urge in the policy dialogue with aid receiving countries for ratification and implementation of the Convention against the worst forms of child labour. The Netherlands should of course itself ratify the Convention as soon as possible.
    • If a country refuses to ratify the Convention and also gives little priority to primary education then this should be a weighty argument against starting a structural bilateral aid relation with this country.
    • Avoid ad hoc education programmes for working children if it is also possible to give these children access to quality formal education.
    (explanatory note to point 2)

  3. To insist upon the expansion of the present draft Convention against the worst forms of child labour with a ban on work that prevents children from going to school.
    In this context we make the following recommendation:
    • Add to the definition of the worst forms of child labour: 'work that systematically deprives children of access to basic education'.
    (explanatory note to point 3)

 Federation of Netherlands Trade Unions, Amsterdam
 India Committee of the Netherlands, Utrecht
 Novib, The Hague

Explanatory note to point 1

At least 125 million children in developing countries never go to school. Besides, at least 150 million children do not finish primary education. In most cases they - a majority of them girls - don't receive more than a few years of education. They don't or hardly learn to read, write and count. This is also the case with many children that do finish their primary education, because of the low quality of education. Children who are not going to school, or drop out early, are almost always working children or children who are drawn into work at an early age. The result is that these children are 'burnt out' at a young age and cannot escape from the vicious circle of poverty and subordination that their families are in.

Governments from North and South have already several times, most recently at the Social Summit of 1995 in Copenhagen, agreed that all children should be able to go to good schools as soon as possible. The Social Summit mentioned 2015 as the year to reach this goal. Doing this would cost not more than 8 billion dollars a year, which is less than what the world spends on military expenditure in four days.
Nevertheless many governments of developing countries are not giving enough priority to good primary education. But also the governments of the rich countries have not lived up to their promises. South and North together have the responsibility to give primary education a higher priority. At present only 2% of international development aid is spent on primary education. If this percentage is increased to 8% it would pay for half of the necessary investments in primary education. The other half should be shouldered by developing countries themselves. The poorest countries should be supported by reducing their debt burden to enable their governments to invest more in primary education. Of course these governments should also be willing to give this a higher priority.

Also The Netherlands contributes to primary education in developing countries only in a limited way. In 1999 the direct bilateral aid of the Dutch government for primary education in the South amounted to less than 2% of the Dutch aid budget. Besides the Dutch governments supports primary education through agencies like the World Bank, the European Union, Unicef and the (non-governmental) co-financing organizations (Novib, Hivos, Bilance and ICCO). All in all about 4,5% of total Dutch aid is spent on primary education. Doubling this to at least 8% will make clear that The Netherlands is really serious about the international agreements and shared responsibility of South and North to give all children access to quality education. (The figures used are based on reports by Oxfam International and Novib, March 1999)

The developing countries with which The Netherlands is having a structural bilateral (aid) relation are supposed to have good governance and good policy [The Netherlands is now in the process on reviewing their bilateral relations with countries on the basis of (primarily) the criteria of good governance and good policy].
This does however not mean that the countries selected automatically have a good and effective policy for primary education and child labour elimination. India, Bangladesh and especially Pakistan are examples of this. Therefore The Netherlands cannot just support the education sector without having some pre-conditions fulfilled. Participation of local government/administration and civil organizations in drawing up and implementation of the programmes is a condition that cannot be put aside. Obviously one also has to consider the (expected) effectiveness of the plans  nd the equal chances to quality primary education for all children.
To reach that last goal not only the quality of education has to be improved but also special programmes should be set up to get working children to school. Improving education means that one has to invest in, among other things, attractive teaching material, good training and re-training of teachers and school buildings. But that is not enough.
To get working children to school and to keep them there often special enabling programmes are necessary. Examples of such programmes can be found in such different countries as India, Brazil and Burkina Faso. It e.g. means: pressure on local and national authorities to improve education, bridge courses/classes for children between 8 and 14 to enable them to enter school at a higher grade, campaigns to get girls to school who are now doing household work, promotion of parents' involvement in school, education in the local language and economic support to the parents of the children. Education programmes supported by the Dutch government should therefore always have a plan of action to bring working children to school and offer them quality education.

Explanatory note to point 2

The new child labour convention does not automatically become a reality. To support its implementation The Netherlands and the European Union should therefore announce before the start of the negotiations in Geneva that they are willing to support those countries who ratify the new Convention. Such an timely offer could as well lead to a stronger Convention as well as improve its implementation. Support for education, especially for children working at present, should be the focus of it.
The new Convention will be part of the fundamental labour standards of the ILO which every ILO-member is supposed to implement. In its policy dialogue with aid-receiving countries The Netherlands (and the EU) should therefore urge countries to ratify and implement the convention as soon as possible. Countries refusing to ratify and also giving little priority to primary education cannot be considered countries with a 'good policy'. Both aspects should therefore be seriously considered in deciding whether or not to start a structural bilateral relation with a developing country.

Sometimes it is necessary to set up special education programmes for (a certain group of) working children. These programmes should aim to 'guide' these children to full-time formal education or provide education as long as full-time formal is not yet available. Special education programmes for working children should however not act as a barrier to bring children in the mainstream formal full-time primary education. Examples of programmes acting as a barrier are:

  • structural forms of - often second grade - non-formal evening classes for children who continue working during the day;
  • ad hoc education programmes of the government (or NGO's) for often small groups of working children while the social, cultural and/or economic causes of not going to school are not being addressed simultaneously.

Explanatory note to point 3

The new convention against the worst forms of child labour (for example in article 7.2.) emphasizes the crucial importance of access to free primary education as a means to eliminate child labour. Nevertheless the present draft text still has an essential omission regarding work which interferes with the right of children to go to school.
In article 3d of the convention 'the worst forms of child labour' are defined as work which by the nature or circumstances in which it is carried our jeopardizes the health, security or morals of the child. Work that interferes with the right of the child to education is not mentioned even though primary education is a right which is recognized by almost all countries via the Convention on the rights of the child.
The thousands of organizations active in the Global March Against Child Labour and its follow-up are, together with the international trade union movements and many governments from South and North, of the opinion that work that prevents children from going to school should be part of the definition of the worst forms of child labour. Therefore we recommend to add to article 3 which defines the worst forms of child labour: 'work which systematically deprives the child of access to education'.

A ban on work that prevents children from going to school does not mean - although it would be desirable as such - that governments are legally obliged to immediately provide (compulsory) primary education for every child. Also the Convention on the right of the child speaks about 'achieving this right progressively'. Such a ban would however imply that work which (for example because of the number of hours worked and/or the time and place of work) prevents children from attending locally available and/or compulsory education should be banned. This is for example often the case with girls who work in the household at home or elsewhere, which makes it impossible for them to go to school.


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India Committee of the Netherlands - October 1, 1999