Recommendations to the European Parliament
on the report Child Labour in Developing Countries

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Common position paper on child labour and education of 17 February 2005 drafted by Campaign 1

The situation at present: the EU on child labour and education

The European Union does not have a specific policy to address child labour. There are however several resolutions of the European Parliament that have dealt with the issue or other child rights issues.2 One resolution adopted in 2002 is dealing specifically with child labour in the sporting goods industry but also contains the following important general statement: child labour perpetuates poverty and hampers development by driving wages down, putting adults out of work and denying education, and is a violation of human dignity.
In its recent resolution on education and training in the context of poverty reduction in developing countries of 2003, the European Parliament makes the important statement that ‘universal full-time education also includes an effective ban on child labour as well as an education that includes strategies to integrate all out-of-school children’.
At present, the (incidental) approach of the European Commission with regard to the issue of child labour remains separate from the EU policy to achieve education for all. Neither the Commission’s Communication on Education nor the response of the Council on this makes any significant reference to child labour which impedes millions of children from attending full-time formal schools.3 A positive development is that DG Development recently initiated an investigation on the link between child labour and education, focusing specifically on a more intensive partnership with the ILO.
We welcome the fact that the European Parliament has taken the initiative to make a report on ‘Child labour in developing countries’. However, we urge the European Union, for reasons of coherence and credibility, to also take into account the existence of child labour and low quality education within EU Member States. We therefore call for a comprehensive approach on child labour and education in both internal and external policy of the European Union.

We, the undersigning members of society:

Expressing our concern for the estimated 246 million working children and 113 million children of primary school age that never went to school,
Recalling the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the ILO Conventions 138 and 182 and the Millennium Development Goals by the vast majority of States, including the Member States of the European Union,
Emphasising the resultant commitments of the European Union to contribute to the achievement of poverty eradication, education for all and the abolishment of child labour,
Reminding the European Union of the fact that implementation is to be non-discriminatory, i.e. without bias to any child and its human rights,
Willing to support the European Union in its efforts to incorporate its commitments in its policies and practice,

Recommend that the European Parliament in its report ‘Child Labour in developing countries’ gives special regard to the following considerations:

  1.   Child labour and education are interrelated
  2.   Every child has a right to quality education
  3.   Non-formal education is to aim at integration with formal education
  4.   All forms of child labour are unacceptable, for any child
  5.   Eradication of child labour and realisation of labour standards are closely linked
  6.   Child labour causes and sustains poverty
  7.   Companies have a responsibility to eradicate child labour in their operations

1.   Child labour and education are interrelated
Child labour: Child labour can be defined as economic exploitation and performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.4
Interrelationship: ‘The inextricable link between the abolition of child labour and the universalization of education’ (ILO-IPEC) is increasingly acknowledged. UNESCO states ‘If we want to achieve education for all, the issue of child labour must be taken more squarely into account’.5 However, this is not reflected as such in relevant policies of governments and international donors.

2.   Every child has a right to quality education
Every child: Focus of attention is to both keep children in day-time schools and to actively approach those excluded from the school system in order to get them into school. The registration and actual school attendance of girls and children from marginalised groups depends on the acceptance of the norm that every child should be in school. Key strategies to establish this norm are social mobilisation and coalition building.
Quality education: Indicators for (free and public) quality education include not only effective teaching methods, adequate supply of education material and proper monitoring of learners’ performance but also the involvement of all stakeholders, particularly teachers, teachers’ unions, parents, learners, communities and school management.6 This is also essential to get all children into formal schools, where necessary by transitory forms of education. Moreover, qualified teachers are needed to provide quality teaching, therefore decent salaries and working conditions are essential.

3.   Non-formal education is to aim at integration with formal education
Non-formal education: Non-formal education refers to those forms of education that are not part of the formal daytime state-regulated school system. There are all kinds of non-formal education with a range of more or less state-imposed criteria, funding and control. Crucial in this context is whether or not non-formal education is a transitory means towards integration in the formal daytime education system.
Integration: Non-formal education needs to enable children to integrate into the formal day-time education system. It should not create or maintain a parallel education system which makes integration in principle or practice impossible and amounts to discrimination of certain groups of children. Both non-formal and formal education should not endorse or enable child labour.

4.   All forms of child labour are unacceptable, for any child
All forms: Child labour as defined under 1. requires an integrated approach. When only addressing the worst forms of child labour, the problem tends to shift from one group of children to another group. The resulting ‘competition in harm’ furthermore denies groups of children equal opportunities compared to others in their entitlement to human rights.
Any child: Acceptance of child labour for girls and children from marginalised groups is both undesirable and unnecessary. Gender issues moreover underscore the need for an inclusive definition of child labour that also addresses housekeeping and agricultural work. In order to reach all children, civil registration such as birth registration needs to be addressed.7

5.   Eradication of child labour and realisation of labour standards are closely linked
Labour standards: The eradication of child labour is closely linked to the promotion of human/labour standards in the workplace. Core labour standards are: the right to organize and collective bargaining and freedom from forced labour, child labour and discrimination. They are mutually interdependent and reinforcing. The minimum age for employment ensures the right of children to childhood and education. Such a commitment was reaffirmed in the Declaration on Fundamental Principals and Rights at Work in June 1998 at the International Labour Conference.
Linkage: Child labour undermines the employment, wages and working conditions of adult labour, as children are often exploited and paid far below adult wages. Thus, labour rights, fought for and gained under collective bargaining may be weakened through the employment of children in (informal) employment in the same sector. In general, child labour is not prevalent where there is a trade union presence.

6.   Child labour causes and perpetuates poverty
Cause and effect: The Millennium Development Goals aim at poverty eradication through, e.g., education for all, which is intertwined with the abolition of child labour. Child labour is far more a cause then an effect of poverty; in other words: ending child labour does not depend on ending poverty first. On the contrary, to fight poverty one needs to address child labour.
Obstacles: While poverty can complicate the situation of a family wanting to put their children into school, research and practical experience show that poor children are able to go to full-time schools if education is free, of sufficient quality and a social norm is built that children should not work but be in school. Social and cultural norms, prejudice, exclusion and discrimination of girls and certain population groups present important obstacles for children to go out of work and into school, but they can be overcome by mobilisation around such a norm. On the macro-level it has been proven that the economic contribution of child labour is by far outweighed by the costs of lack of education.8

7.   Companies have a responsibility to eradicate child labour in their operations
Obligations of companies: As part of their corporate social responsibility, transnational and other companies are widely considered to have a responsibility to contribute to the eradication of child labour, also by encouraging, enabling and ensuring their business partners (including suppliers and sub-contractors) to do the same. ILO Conventions 138 and 182 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child oblige the EU Member States to ensure that EU-based companies eradicate child labour in their operations. At present however this is mainly implemented via the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Companies which only have the character of recommendations of (OECD) governments to companies. They are also limited to investment (leaving out non-investment related trade) and lack an effective complaint and sanctioning mechanism. In addition, the draft UN Norms for Business, which are on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Commission, could in the future contribute to fighting child labour in business operations worldwide.9
Eradication of child labour: The UN Human Rights Norms for Business state: ‘Transnational and other business enterprises using child labour shall create and implement a plan to eliminate child labour. Such a plan shall assess what will happen to children when they are no longer employed in the business and include measures such as withdrawing children from the workplace in tandem with the provision of suitable opportunities for schooling, vocational training and other social protection for the children and their families...’10

Recommendations to the European Union:
  1. The EU is called upon to thoroughly reflect the indivisible nature of child rights and the inextricable link between child labour and education and to create a coherent policy for the elimination of child labour linked to the provision of day-time quality formal education for all children. This should be part of an EU Communication on Child Rights in order to provide a strategic framework for future policy on children.
  2. The EU should base its child labour and education policies on the legal right of every child to go to a day-time school and stimulate the wider acceptance of the social norm that every child should be in school, with special regard to obstacles based on gender and other forms of discrimination. The EU has to ensure that they receive quality education in terms of both content, teaching methods and qualified teachers but also effective methods of mobilization and transitory education that enable all out-of-school children to go to day-time education.
  3. In the words of the European Parliament in its earlier resolution, the EU should ensure that in its education programmes ‘universal education also includes an effective ban on child labour as well as an education system that includes strategies to integrate all out-of-school children’.
  4. The EU is called upon to base its policy on the conviction, which is backed up by the international agreements, that all forms of child labour are unacceptable. This allows it to fully address the rights of girls and marginalised and discriminated groups in society.
  5. The EU should work on the elimination of child labour in a way that is interlinked with the realization of other labour standards as this will reinforce the implementation of all (core) labour standards as a whole.
  6. The EU should acknowledge the importance of education and abolishment of child labour for poverty eradication and address both social and cultural as well as economic obstacles.
  7. The EU should, in order to strengthen its policy on corporate social responsibility, contribute to strengthening the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Companies. The EU should urge the OECD and its member states to broaden the scope of the OECD Guidelines for Companies from investment to trade relations within and between companies, as well as strengthen its monitoring, complaint and sanctioning mechanism.11 In programmes supported by the EU, the EU should make it a condition of funding or contract work that companies abide by OECD Guidelines. The EU and its member states should also contribute to the development of the draft UN Human Rights Norms for Business, which includes norms on child labour, into an effective global instrument against child labour and other human rights abuses by companies.
These recommendations on child labour and education in turn call for coherent European Union policies, improved strategies, increased budget for their implementation, participation of all stakeholders in decision making processes and inclusion of a rights based approach to corporate social responsibility and accountability.

Signed by:

Civil society in the North:
Education International
India Committee of the Netherlands
Mani Tese, Global March Against Child Labour Europe
Novib/Oxfam Netherlands
Plan International
Civil society in the South:
AIDS Prevention Support Group/Ceará (GAPA/CE-BR), BRASIL
Caja Lúdica, GUATEMALA
IFBWW South Asia Project Office, New Delhi, INDIA
Human Development Organization, SRI LANKA
Legal Resources Foundation (LRF), KENYA
Ombetja Yehinga Organisation, NAMIBIA
Tanzania Seasmens Union, TANZANIA
Vikas Sansthan Campaign for Women and Child Rights, INDIA
Shantha Sinha, MV Foundation, INDIA


1 Contact details for this paper: India Committee of the Netherlands; e-mail: Participating organisations in the Campaign ‘Stop Child Labour – School is the best place to work’ include Concern (Ireland), Deutsche Welthungerhilfe (Germany) and Hivos (The Netherlands). See on the Campaign Child labour, basic education and international donor policies: A challenge to conventional wisdom (2004), Basic Education, Child Labour and the European Union (2004) and Report of the International Conference “Out of Work and Into School – Children’s Right to Education as a Non-negotiable”, 2-5 November 2004, Hyderabad, India.
2 See on education and child labour European Parliament resolutions A5-0278/2001, A5-0147/2002 and A5-0126/2003.
3 See on the statistics ILO/IPEC (2002), A Future Without Child Labour, and UNESCO (2002), Financing Education – Investments and Returns.
4 Cf. the protection offered under Article 32.1 and 32.2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and more specifically ILO Conventions Nos. 138 and 182.
5 ILO/IPEC (2003), Combating Child Labour through Education.
6 See Resolution 1 on Quality Education of the Second GCE World Assembly, South Africa, 2-4 December 2004.
7 The right to an identity, the right to be registered at birth is enshrined in Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. See on the importance of effective birthregistrationsystem also ILO Convention 138, recommendation 146, Article 16.
8 According to ILO/IPEC (2004), Investing in Every Child, An Economic Study of the Costs and Benefits of Eliminating Child labour, the benefits of eliminating child labour will be nearly seven times greater than its costs.
9 See also the recent ‘Report of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights: on the responsibilities of transnational corporations and related business enterprises with regard to human rights’:
10 UN Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises with regard to Human Rights, Sub-Commission for Human Rights, Commentary on the issue of child labour.
11 See The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and Supply Chain Responsibility (OECD Watch, 2004):

Landelijke India Werkgroep - 21 maart 2005