ENGL Child Lab report

No time to play: child workers in the global economy


PART I Child workers in the global economy

What is child labour?

Why is child labour increasing?

Child labour and international trade - the Social Clause

PART II Area case studies

Asia and the pacific

Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines,Thailand

Latin America and the Caribbean

Brazil, Chile , Colombia, Dominican Republic,Ecuador,Peru


Mauritania , Zimbabwe

Europe, USA and Canada

United Kingdom, Italy, Portugal, Spain, USA and Canada

PART III Action to stop child labour

National action, International action



This report, which has been produced in connection with the 16th ICFTU World Congress, deals with the global scandal of child labour, a phenomenom which governs the lives of up to 200 million children around the world. Children from the ages of four and five are to be found working in all sorts of industries, often under the most appalling conditions. They are usually paid a pittance or even nothing at all, exploited in the name of profit and discarded when they have outlived their usefulness. Most working children have no option - there are not enough schools, their communities are beset by poverty and their parents are usually unable to find a job.

Child labour is a symptom of unrestrained market forces and the growing divisions of wealth within and between countries. As the world moves towards a truly global economy, we are presented with a clear choice between sustainable, equitable economic growth and the kind of cutthroat competition which all too many governments and employers seem to prefer.

The pages which follow provide stark evidence of the scale and the nature of the problem, including the growth in child labour caused by unregulated global trade. There can be no better illustration of the need for rules to govern trade between nations than the devastating effects of the actions of some of the world's most powerful interests on the most vulnerable people in any society.

The ICFTU, supported by many governments and nongovernment organisations, is campaigning for the introduction of a Social Clause in international trade agreements, especially at global level involving the International Labour Organisation and the World Trade Organisation. This clause would punish those who continue to profit from child labour, slavery, discrimination and repression of unions while rewarding those countries which respect basic rights, with access to global markets.

This report is part of the on-going international trade union campaign involving the ICFTU, International Trade Secretariats and our national affiliates, to expose the increasing abuse of children for economic advantage. The products of this dirty trade are on sale today in shops all over the world. We all have our own part to play in eliminating child labour, to give the children a chance to learn and to play, and to ensure that their communities and their countries can reap the benefits of sustainable economic development where people are put before profit.

ICFTU General Secretary

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Part I


Of all the benefits of economic development, providing a sound education and a healthy, secure future for the children of the world is perhaps the most important. Yet at the end of the 20th century, tens of millions of children are being exploited in work across the globe, and the numbers are growing.

This report looks at the causes of and solutions to the tragedy of child labour. Summaries of national case studies from 20 countries are included, based on official government reports and work carried out (often at considerable personal risk) by local trade unionists and community organisations. These studies show that there are common political and economic characteristics of child labour, which must be addressed by national governments and by the international community.

It is not possible in a document of this length to cover every detail of the subject or to look at each of the many countries where child labour is a serious problem, but it does show that child labour can and must be tackled, and perhaps most importantly, it tries to show what child labour means to the children who suffer.

Child labour is a global problem which requires global solutions. Governments and employers must join unions and the non-government organisations to make sure that in the 21st century, child labour is a thing of the past, not a current reality.


Child labour is defined as work regularly done by children under the age of 15 with some very limited exceptions (these are set out in ILO Convention 138). Some of the very worst exploitation happens to children as young as four or five years. Many people think that child labour largely disappeared along with other abuses of the nineteenth century; however, this report shows that vast numbers of children are at work instead of at school. Child labour is becoming a structural part of many economies in both the formal and informal sectors.

The formal sector includes factories and other established workplaces - such as the garment factories of Bangladesh or the carpet factories of Nepal; the informal sector includes children working on the streets, as in Mexico selling chewing gum for a living, or in the home such as in the Philippines or the United Kingdom where a piecework subcontractor brings around garments to peoples' homes where they are often worked on by young children. The urban informal sector is expanding, often supplying goods to larger firms for export. The great value of the informal sector to many businesses is that it is unregulated, making exploitation of the workforce easier. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) states that more children now work in this sector than in agriculture because of migration to urban areas and the decentralisation of production units (1, US Department of Labor report, 1994).

Many types of work are done by children including agricultural work, domestic service, home-based work, work in factories and shops, street selling, mining and quarrying, construction and a wide range of other activities. Tens of thousands of children are also forced to work in the sex industry around the world.

In a number of industries (eg in hand-made carpets, glass-making, fireworks and match production in South Asia as well as in the textiles, clothing and footwear industry in countries in all parts of the world), child labour is an integral part of the production process with products made by children being sold domestically and on the international market often under abominable conditions.

Child labour is usually characterised by low or no wages, long hours, dangerous and unhealthy conditions and lack of physical or social security. Many thousands of children are kidnapped or sold and kept as slaves with no rights and constant physical and psychological abuse. Children are also employed as part of family networks, on farms, as "subcontractors", as "regular employees" in workplaces or are forced to eke out a meager existence on the streets.

Products made by children are on sale in big and small shops in every corner of the globe.


Many children are forced to work because of poverty. Especially where adult unemployment is very high and there is no social security, families may be forced to allow their children to work simply in order to survive. Because of its effects on the health and education of children, child labour is also a major cause of poverty, creating a vicious circle from which there seems to be no escape. Many of the parents of today's child workers were also child workers themselves and thus cannot find employment as adults. This generation will follow the same pattern unless a decisive break is made.

Under the pressure of the world economic crisis, many governments have been forced to seek loans from the international financial institutions under stringent structural adjustment programmes. This has meant withdrawal of vital resources from social programmes, in particular to pay off debts. Large-scale unemployment resulting from privatisation has exacerbated the situation.

Some communities have managed to do something about child labour in spite of poverty, in particular where governments have made education a priority in their budgets, for example in the State of Kerala, India. Free, universal education, at least to primary level, is one of the most important steps against child labour and an invaluable investment in the future of any country. Providing a meal a day at school provides an additional incentive for parents to send their children to school.

Some of the worst child labour abuses occur in countries such as Pakistan which spends nearly one-third of its budget on the military and less than 2% on education of its children, and in India where school drop-out rates in the hand-made carpet producing areas approach 85%. In industrialised countries, where school participation rates are generally high, an increasing number of children attend school full-time but also work outside school hours, sometimes in dangerous situations with long hours.

Social attitudes are also important as many people are still not aware of the devastating social and economic effects of child labour and are prepared to tolerate it. Perhaps most important of all, governments and the international institutions need to admit that child labour is a serious problem and commit themselves to take action to stop it. This action should include proper monitoring and enforcement of labour laws, strong penalties against employers who exploit children, sufficient spending on education and poverty alleviation and rules to prevent the sale of goods produced by child labour in international markets.



Almost every country has laws against child labour, and most have signed ILO and/or United Nations Conventions such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ILO Convention 138 and other relevant ILO Conventions. Most governments respect the Conventions they have signed and an increasing number of countries are taking steps to enforce their own child labour laws. Nevertheless, a minority of governments are prepared to tolerate child labour in the belief that this can gain them a competitive advantage. As the global free trade agenda becomes a reality, sustainable and equitable development risks being undermined in the name of cutthroat competition.

The trade union movement, supported by many governments and nongovernment organisations in developing and industrialised countries, believes that proper rules are needed in the international trade system through the adoption of a Social Clause in international trade agreements. At global level, this clause would involve cooperation between the International Labour Organisation and the new World Trade Organisation to stop countries undermining their trading competitors through using child labour, forced labour or discrimination, or by suppressing the rights of trade unions to organise and bargain collectively.

The ICFTU's proposed Social Clause is based on multilateral agreement between countries, backed up by financial and technical support for eliminating child labour. The adoption of a Social Clause would put an end to one country undermining another by abusing basic standards, putting a stop to the dirty worldwide trade in goods made by children. In a more general sense, the Social Clause would promote government action against child labour in nonexport sectors.

Many people imagine that child labour is an inevitable part of the development process. Nothing could be further from the truth. Real economic progress can only come when adults are in work and children in school. Until then, a small minority will make profit out of children's work but whole communities will remain condemned to a cycle of poverty and underdevelopment, wasting their most valuable resource for the future - a well-trained and educated workforce.

Some people also argue that child labour is a traditional part of most societies and is important for the personal development of the child. Some even argue that children should have "the right to work". These were the same arguments used to justify massive exploitation of children in the industrial revolution and they are as false now as they were then. Children need to learn to read and write and they need the social and other skills that only schooling and a stable, non-exploitative social environment can provide.

Another common argument in favour of tolerating child labour is that families will suffer economically if the children do not work. The reality is that child workers are almost never paid a living wage, while the families of children who work usually have at least one unemployed adult. The effort should be to get the adults in work, earning a living income to support their children. Research carried out into hand-made carpet production shows that the cost of replacing children with adults in the factories (around a 4% increase in the price of a carpet) would not mean losing all-important export markets (importers will pay up to 15% more)(2, ILO, 1995). Only where other exporters can continue to use children could export markets be possibly threatened. This is why it is important to have rules concerning child labour and trade which apply to all countries

The International Labour Organisation is the principal UN Agency dealing with child labour although other agencies also play important roles. The main work of the ILO involves developing international standards on labour issues, including child labour, and monitoring governments' compliance with these (in addition to Convention 138, there are nine other ILO Conventions dealing with different aspects of child labour) as well as providing technical assistance to countries in order to combat child labour and promote respect for labour standards. The ILO's major technical activity in this field is through the International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) which operates mainly at national and community levels.

The issue of child labour has now moved to the top of the ILO's agenda due to increasing awareness and concern about the problem. This is partly as a result of the work of the trade union movement around the world to highlight this scandalous exploitation of society's most vulnerable people in the name of profit.

Ever since the earliest days of the trade union movement, unions have struggled against child labour. To give a new impetus, the ICFTU launched a global campaign against child labour in 1994. This campaign has involved research and documentation of child labour, efforts to stop the sale of goods made by children (eg hand-made carpets) in international markets, awareness raising and education activities, small-scale projects to provide children with school places, pressure on governments to take action and lobbying the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and other institutions to play their part in eliminating child labour.

The International Trade Secretariats (ITS), which represent unions in the different industrial sectors, have also made campaigning against child labour a priority. The ICFTU cooperates closely with these organisations in a joint effort to tackle the problem. ITSs are carrying out research, education and other activities to fight against child labour in their various sectors and a number of the case studies which follow are the result of ITS investigations.

This report shows in real terms what child labour today means in practice: what the children undergo and the effects of it on their health and welfare. It also shows that the problem is worldwide and that it can only be combatted effectively through concerted national and international action.

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Part II



According to the ILO, at least half of all the world's child labourers are found in South Asia (including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka) and Southeast Asia (including the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam). In countries like Burma and China, child labour is known to be a serious problem; however, government restrictions make it virtually impossible to obtain reliable figures.


Official figures reckon there are 5.7 million 10-14 year-old workers in Bangladesh, other sources put it as high as 15 million. Many are found in the garment industry, an important source of exports. They are also employed in bakeries, catering and hotels, transport, bidi (cigarette) factories, small engineering workshops, construction, fish processessing and other informal and unregulated sectors.

The garment sector

The actual size of the Bangladesh garment sector is not clear. There are official figures but these do not take into account the growing subcontracting sector which goes unnoticed and unregulated. An ICFTU study of one garment factory in Dhaka, the capital, found that:

The factory employs 375 people. About 20% of them (i.e. 75) are child workers. Most of them are girls between the ages of ten and 14. Payments to child workers are kept secret ...Working conditions are subnormal. Workspaces are cramped. Ventilation and lighting are bad. Child workers ... were unwilling to talk to the investigators. When pressed, they complained of eye strain and threats from their supervisors that they might lose their jobs. ... About 12-15% of the workforce visited by the investigators were of the same families. Parents are often obliged by their poverty to get their children to work in the same factory so that they contribute to the family's slender income while being under some parental supervision. (3, ICFTU report)

The parents wanted their children to be educated and properly cared for but were unable to do so because of their own terrible economic circumstances and the lack of free schooling. The garment factories are located in multi storied buildings throughout Dhaka. Factory gates are often locked by guards who hold the keys. Sometimes there is no one around who is able to open the gate which is often the only entrance and exit to the factory. The workers, including the children, are frequently locked in at the beginning of the shift and not let out again until the end of the working day, or even until the next day. Children and adults typically work a 10 to 14-hour day. Supervisors regularly punish "misbehaviour," such as talking, by docking a day's pay. The children are paid less than adults, and frequently not at all while being trained - so-called "apprentices." (1)

The construction industry

In the construction industry in Bangladesh, children are used in stone breaking. It is estimated that 30% of construction workers are children. Large numbers are employed by subcontractors whose wages are lower than those of contractors. An ICFTU study found children of both sexes aged from 7 years on a building site not far from Dhaka. One child was only five years old.

The childworkers are placed around heaps of stones where they have to break 80-100 sq. feet of stones per week, or ten sq. feet a day. Subcontracts last a week as a minimum and workers earn about 40 taka a day. With that money they have to buy essential equipment: a hammer (costing about 80-85 taka); an umbrella (as a shield from the sun); a watercan (for drinking water); and rubber gloves (to protect their hands). The working day starts at 7 a.m. and can continue, says the subcontractor, until 10 p.m. if the stone breakers (working on piece rates) have the energy to continue. Eye injuries from flying stone chips are frequent. No treatment apart from rudimentary first aid is available. (3)


A quarter of all child labourers are said to be in India. In the last 25 years, officially recognised child labour in India has increased from 10.7 million to 17 million - and these figures are known to be underestimates. In contrast to the official figures, independent studies reckon the figures to range from 44 million to 100 million. Besides agriculture and the informal sector, child labourers in India are most commonly employed in the carpet making factories, the firework and match industries, brassware, glassware, clothing, footwear and silk industries.

The carpet industry

The Indian carpet industry has increased its profits threefold in the last ten years. At the same time, the numbers of children employed in the industry have trebled. The conditions are atrocious and health hazards are rife:

When children suffered cuts to the fingers during weaving, the loom owners scrape sulpher from matches into the wound and then set the wound on fire to stop the bleeding. ... Children suffer from psychological distress and are beaten and even tortured if they attempt to escape from the looms. Some reports describe children beaten to death by loom owners for making mistakes. (1)

An interview with children in a carpet factory in Rajasthan discovered the primitive and cruel nature of the treatment of accidents:

Our fingers get cut. We put some turmeric paste or mehandi paste and go back to work. Our fingers are bloodless - no blood falls. We don't grow, our chests don't grow, our legs lose their strength. We are incapable of doing any other work. (4, ICFTU-APRO report)

Bleeding fingers are cauterised not for medical reasons, but simply to stop blood getting on the carpets.


Around 45,000-50,000 children work in the firework and match-making factories around Sivakasi in Tamilnadu. Some begin working in the industry at the age of five or earlier. Most of the output of firework factories is used on one day a year: Diwali, the Festival of Lights:

Most of the children now at work in the units joined along with their parents since even toddlers could pick up the basic skills involved. Their ages range from 3 1/2 to 15 years and they work for as long as 12 hours continuously on wages as low as Rs.2 to Rs.8 per day, depending on the individual's output. They get little sleep and while busy in their tasks, their eyes itch, burn and water from the effort of keeping awake for long hours. The children also inhale toxic fumes, suffer from intense heat and run the risk of being injured in fire accidents. Some have to heave heavyboxes, and hence suffer from severe back pain. (Quoted in 5, ICFTU-APRO)

The glass industry

The glass industry is also a major user of child labour. In the glass industry of Firozabad in the district of Uttar Pradesh, thousands of boys between 6 and 15 work in appalling conditions making bangles and blowing glass. One report described conditions in the factories as "Dante's 'Inferno'." The temperature of the furnaces near which they work approaches 700 degrees C:

The work environment is heavily polluted with heat, chemical fumes, soot and coal dust, while the floor is littered with broken glass.

Child workers in the age group of 7 to 12 deal with burning loams of glass stuck on the tips of iron rods. They hold them in such a way that the burning glass is just two feet away from their own bodies and a foot away from the bodies of other child workers. The workers are constantly on the move with this blazing material in hand in the congested space.

At any given moment, red hot glass is on two sides of a child worker's body, within inches of it. And under his feet is a carpet of broken glass.

The glass-manufacturing units work three shifts - 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., 4 p.m. to midnight and midnight to 8 a.m. In every shift there are about 100 to 150 workers, including child workers. ... They do not even get lunch or dinner breaks. (Press report, quoted in 5)

An ICFTU-APRO seminar in 1993 highlighted the importance of macro-economic policy in relation to child labour in India, including the impacts of the Structural Adjustment Programme agreed to with the World Bank and IMF, and India's New Economic Policy. Given the existing caste system, these policies are likely to lead to pauperisation and an increase in bonded and child labour. Child labourers are usually from scheduled castes and tribes, and from religious minorities. (4)

In response to mounting domestic and international pressure, the Indian government has announced measures to tackle the problem, including increased spending on programmes to get children out of work and into school. This needs to be backed up by proper enforcement of India's own laws against child labour.


It is estimated that there are three million working children in Nepal. Most are either in the agricultural sector or in the carpet industry, an important export for Nepal. Many are bonded labourers:

Fourteen year-old Asharam Chaudhary of Shreepur Majhgaon, Kailali district, far-west Nepal, is a bonded labourer. He has no idea about [the] Sunki (loan) his father borrowed Nrs 700 (approx US$ 13), which is now Nrs 14,000 (approx US$ 300), as claimed by the landlord. He is obliged to work for minimum wages paid to him in kind. His father died; his elder brother has disappeared and the responsibility for his mother (aged 55), elder sister (aged 20), a younger brother (aged 12) and another younger brother (aged 8) lies on him. His mother and sister do household chores, and his brothers graze cows and goats for his master. All these details were given by Asharam, with no clothes on his body and tears in his eyes. (6, Anti-Slavery International, 1994)

Street children

Children are also employed as ragpickers, domestic labourers and street sellers. Sushila, aged 14, sells newspapers in the streets of Kathmandu. She has been in this job for three years and a major problem for her is police harassment:

Sushila says: "When they see police coming, the children have to run away at a lightening speed. If caught, they are harassed. Police shout at you, call you nasty names, box your ears and step on and tear your papers." Sushila's problems are made worse by the passersby who just gather round her to look at the papers. "But they don't buy them, only create problems for me. When they crowd round me I can't see the police, if they are coming towards me. So either I have to run without papers, or get caught and harassed." Much as she dislikes her job, she has no alternative. Living with her father in the slum, she has to work to be able to eat. (7, Dhital, 1994)

As well as establishing the minimum age that children may work (14 years), the Nepalese Constitution also forbids their employment in hazardous work. It applies to children working in urban industries, and provides for district labour inspectors. However, enforcement of the law is rare. There are not enough inspectors and they don't always look for child labour. Sanctions are often not enforced and inspectors are frequently denied access to workplaces. In addition, education is not compulsory and poor families often cannot afford to send their children to school - all symptoms of a serious child labour problem.


It is estimated that there are about 10 million working children in Pakistan but as usual, accurate figures are not available. A US Department of Labor report stated "there is little doubt that child labor has assumed massive proportions in Pakistan. The actual total ... is probably somewhere between 2 and 19 million." (1) They are employed in brick kilns, agriculture, carpet factories, restaurants, furniture factories, in the making of sports goods and surgical equipment. They also work as domestic labourers, where they are often exposed to mental and physical abuse and separated from their parents, being kept in many cases in a state of virtual imprisonment. Thousands of small children have been taken out of the country to become camel jockeys in the Gulf States. (4) World Bank figures for 1993 showed that 26.9% of total government spending was on arms while a mere 1.1% was spent on education.

In 1996, the ILO was strongly critical of the lack of action by the Pakistan government to attack the problem of children in bonded slavery. (8, ILO, 1996)

The carpet industry

As in Nepal and India, the carpet industry in Pakistan is an important export industry, earning about two billion dollars annually. In April 1994, the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude estimated that there are 500,000 children in the Pakistan carpet industry. A UNICEF report put the figure at nearer 1.2 million. The conditions for child workers are atrocious. Factories employing less than 10 workers are not covered by labour laws and the carpet industry in Pakistan is very largely a cottage industry, deliberately organised in this way in order to avoid the labour laws. A report produced by UNICEF in 1992 described the conditions in the Punjab. It surveyed 10 villages and concluded that carpet weaving is mostly done by children. Contrary to expectations, conditions of work for children weaving at home were found to be no better and often even more deterimental to the child's welfare than for those working in private workshops. Parents tended to keep their children at the loom for longer hours and the working environment at home was ... not as well ventilated or adequately lit. (1)

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan states that work units in rural areas have more child labour than urban areas. In the villages the children working are often less than eight years old. UNICEF describes the work as painful and unhealthy: children sit in cramped positions for long periods of time, breathing wool dust, working under poor lighting conditions, straining their eyes and working with chemical dyes. The children also develop spinal deformities. (1)

Many of the children are severely ill by the time they become adults. Human Rights Watch/Asia has reported that many of the children are bonded labourers. In some cases, children are forced to work by their parents, in other cases they are separated from their families and kept in small factories. Human Rights Watch/Asia found that: several children in such factories ... were beaten frequently and rarely allowed to return home. It was noted that if the children attempted to escape they were forcibly returned to the looms with the help of the local police. (1)

Interviews with bonded child carpet weavers suggest that they are frequently beaten if they work too slowly, make errors or disobey instructions. They are often forcibly confined and locked inside guarded buildings. Cases have been reported where bonded children are chained to the looms so as to prevent escape, and subjected to sexual and other forms of physical abuse. UNICEF has concluded from its investigations that a number of families pledge their childrens' work in return for a loan: at the age of seven Anwar started weaving carpets in a village in Pakistan's province of Sindh. He was never asked if he wanted to work. When I interviewed Anwar last november, he was knotting carpets for 12-16 hours per day, six to seven days a week... He was told repeatedly he could not stop working until he earned enough money to pay an alleged family debt. He was never told who in his family had borrowed money nor how much ... Any time he made an error with his work, he was fined and the debt increased. Once when his work was considered to be too slow, he was beaten with a stick. Once after a particularly painful beating, he tried to run away only to be apprehended by the local police who forcibly returned him to the looms. (1)

The Pakistani carpet industry's use of child and child bonded labour attracted international attention after the killing of Iqbal Masih, a 12 year-old former bonded carpet worker. Iqbal had campaigned for the liberation of bonded labourers and was murdered in cold blood near to his home.

ILO figures show that the small increase in production costs which would result from replacing child workers with adults would have a negligible effect on carpet sales in importing countries.

Camel jockeys

The smuggling of children by racketeers out of Pakistan to the Gulf States to work as camel jockeys was described in a national press expose:

Children are used in camel races in Arab countries. Boys of the age group four to nine are tied to the camels' throats and hidden, under loose garments. As the race starts, the children scream in fear. The louder a child cries, the faster a camel runs. Besides entertainment, the prospect of winning races are brighter with minor boys. ...the children are usually returned after they attain the age of 10. "But in many cases, they die or are made to work as slaves in the Middle East for the rest of their lives. The agents hold no responsibility for their deaths," one officer said. (4)

On being confronted by the police, one gang claimed they were fathers of the children they were escorting out of the country but these claims proved to be false. Some of the children used in this cruel sport are as young as two years old. Fatal accidents have occurred, leading the camel owners to glue the boys onto the camels' backs. They are deliberately underfed to reduce the burden on the camel. (1)


Child labour is a serious problem in the Philippines. Official sources estimate that there are 777,000 child workers between the ages of 10 and 14. There are no reliable figures for younger children. Total numbers, however, are agreed to be around 5-5.7 million children doing one sort of work or another. They are employed in the garment industry, agriculture, furniture making and in gold mining, food processing, footwear, plastics, domestic service, the informal sector and fishing. Child prostitution is widespread.


Children in the Philippines are employed in various agricultural enterprises including fruit and vegetable farms, rice and corn production, poultry farms, sugar plantations, animal care, fishing and copra making. On the vegetable farms in the Cordillera region, children work 10 hours a day, six days a week, and are paid 25 pesos ($0.95) a day - less than half the adult rate. They are exposed to great physical strain, toxic pesticides and other chemicals. They suffer from retarded growth, disease and malnutrition. In the Benguet Province, the children work 8-10 hours a day, six days a week. They weed, cultivate, turn soil, fix canals, harvest and apply harmful pesticides. The ILO estimates that 18% of child workers in rural areas in the Philippines are wage labourers employed as farm workers.


An ICFTU study of the operations of a multinational women's clothing company (producing mainly underwear ) in the Philippines found that most of its output was sold in Europe. The company benefits from child labour by contracting work to local firms and asking no questions. These local companies use child workers, some as young as four years old, working in home-based production and in factories. The child workers are mostly girls, chosen because of their extreme poverty, docility and "dexterity with their fingers." They are paid piece rates and receive much less per item than the subcontractor receives from the main company.

The underwear that reaches its main factory is in an advanced state of manufacture thanks to the young, delicate and obedient hands which have done jobs such as sewing, embroidering, making buttonholes and attaching separate pieces of the product... A piece for which a child in tattered clothes is paid 80 centavos can be sold by the company for the equivalent of 150 pesos, a difference of more than 1,000%...

Fish processing

The fish processing industry also exploits child workers. There have been press reports in the Philippines of the extreme exploitation of children. In 1993, a group of children were found imprisoned in a sardine factory. They had originally been promised jobs as domestic workers or shop assistants. They had not been allowed to leave the premises for a year nor allowed to write to their parents to tell them where they were:

Upon their arrival at the factory, the children were told they were in debt to the owner for their trip to the factory, the food they were given during the journey and the payment the factory owner had made to the recruiter. Of the 23 pesos per day ... 25 pesos were deducted ... In this way, the children's debt was instantly and systematically perpetuated. The children were forced to begin work at 3 a.m. and worked into the evening, seven days a week, within guarded factory gates. They filled sardine cans with fish parts and were reprimanded ... if they did not work quickly enough. Their fingers and hands were often slashed from the cans' sharp edges, and their skin damaged and yellowed from constant exposure to water and chemicals. (10, US Department of Labor report, 1995 )

Printing industry

The same report quoted from a press expose of the exploitation at a print shop in Manila of six girls aged 14-15: they were recruited by agents who promised wages of 500 pesos ($18) per month but for two years they received no money. They were forced to work up to 21 hours per day. Their mouths were taped to prevent them talking to each other, and they were physically punished for any mistakes. Although they were locked inside the house, the girls had managed to escape when the door was mistakenly left ajar. (10)


Child prostitution is rampant in the Philippines. Investigations have found that some families "wholeheartedly accepted" the prostitution of their own children, mainly because of poverty. The children are often hired initially as waitresses or receptionists, prostitution being forced upon them later. One report stated:

In those (establishments) which particularly cater for men seeking female (or male) sexual companionship, the pressure on young employees to engage in paid sex may be overwhelming... (10)

Child prostitutes are traumatised, abused and subject to violence. They are raped or beaten into submission and are the object of sadistic treatment by customers. Sometimes they have been killed.

The Philippine government has shown an increasing commitment to end child labour including making illegal recruitment of child workers a criminal offence. The government has also carried out rescue operations in cooperation with NGOs since July 1993 resulting in the release of 59 illegally-employed children. However, this has barely scratched the surface of the problem, and the monitoring of child labour laws is carried out with extreme difficulty since there are nowhere near enough labour inspectors.


The only thing that's certain about child workers in Thailand is that there are a great many. They are used in the export industries - such as garment making, seafood processing, leather bags, wood and rattan furniture and gems - and the number of children forced or tricked into prostitution is unknown although estimates range from between 20,000 to 300,000. (11, Voices of Thai Women) The problem is exacerbated by the network of middlemen and agencies which deals in child labour and child prostitution in Bangkok and other areas.


The Thai prostitution industry has an international reputation and thousands of men travel there from other countries specifically for this purpose. The pleasure they get is not shared by the children who are abused and sometimes killed, like the young Chinese girl who was tricked into prostitution in Thailand and beaten to death in a brothel in Chiang Mai. (10) AIDS is another danger. In one hostel in Bangkok that shelters children rescued from prostitution, half the girls aged 14-18 tested positive for the HIV virus. (11) In the worst cases, the children are physically trapped in the brothels. In Ranong, Thailand, where there are a large number of child prostitutes, some brothels are surrounded by electrified barbed fences and armed guards. (4) One young girl wrote a short poem which seems to sum up the feelings of all children who are being exploited and abused: I am not a product from the store that does not cry when I am sold. I am a young child who will cry till the end of my life if I am sold; while the seller of children never sheds a tear. I have a reason in life, so please understand me. (11)

Several countries including Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United States now have laws to prosecute their citizens who commit sex offences against children abroad (10). Other countries have so far refused to do this.

Paper cups

The conditions for other children in the many illegal factories that now exist in Thailand are almost equally as bad. In 1991 a film on Thai TV showed a raid on a paper cup factory in Bangkok:

The children were found to be in dreadful condition. They were dirty, the skin on their hands was burnt by constant contact with glue and many had deformed legs due to the extensive working hours, bad working position and inadequate nutrition. The children usually worked for 10-15 hours per day and spoke of appalling cruelty and continuous beatings from the factory owner ... and his wife ... The children reported that they had often been forced to beat up fellow workers and some had lost consciousness during [the] beatings. ... When the rescue team entered the room and told the children to stop work, they seemed terrified and continued to work without raising their eyes from the paper cups that they were constructing. ... After the rescue team managed to convince the frightened children that they had come to set them free, the children wept with relief. ... Four children had legs so thin and deformed, that it was impossible for them to walk normally. (12, "Raid on the Hell Factory")

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Child labour in Latin America is an area of increasing concern. Latin America has experienced massive socioeconomic changes in the last few decades as traditional small-scale ways of earning a living have given way to large-scale commercial enterprises. Innumerable small farmers have been driven off their land - often at the point of a gun. Aggressive neoliberal policies have been put into practice that have had a devastating effect on the large numbers of poor and working people. The goal of "modernisation" has been pursued without due regard for the human consequences. These policies and their effects have been identified and documented by trade unions throughout Latin America.

The growing volume of international trade has meant that the labour practices of many countries are now more open to inspection. The ILO estimates that between 15 and 20% of children in Latin America work. Children are found in home-based garment and shoe part production, small-scale mining in remote areas (where kidnapped girls often end up as prostitutes), agribusiness and in the maquiladoras of Mexico and Guatemala. As elsewhere in the world, they are paid piece rates much lower than adult rates. A UNICEF report stated boldly:

The poorest and most vulnerable children have paid the external debt of the Third World at the expense of their normal development, their health and their opportunity to access education. (quoted in 14, ICFTU/ORIT, 1994)


Like other Latin American countries, Brazil has undergone extensive restructuring of its economy in recent decades. In the 1980s, for example, the agricultural sector underwent major shifts from small peasant farms to large-scale farms to produce crops for export. Many small farmers were thrown off the land and either work for the agribusinesses which now own it or have migrated to the cities. A recent study by the Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics (1) found that about two million, or 14.3% of children between 10 and 13 years of age, are working. Many are street children separated from home and parents. Children work in the footwear, textile, garment and tin industries. The US Department of Labor has also received allegations of many other industries that employ children including agribusinesses, wood pulp, handicrafts, electronics, leatherprocessing and gold mining. In addition, investigations are planned in other industries, distilleries, ceramics, plastics, watches and eyeglass industries (1).


Shoes are one of Brazil's main exports. In 1993 the USA alone imported over $1.4 billion in footwear from Brazil. (1) The footwear industry in Franca, Sao Paulo, relies very heavily on small, independent subcontractors. A CUT study (15, CUT Brazil, 1993) found that of 7,000 people working in the informal sector of the industry, 1,300 were children under the legal age of 14. The working day for the children in these small companies (bancas) is the same as in a factory. The majority of locations are poorly ventilated and with inadequate lighting, such as garages; the doors and windows of these places cannot be opened too often because the children are employed illegally and must not be seen. None of them had heard of 'working conditions,' or knew about standards as such, either for their parents or themselves. With a few exceptions, all of them work unregistered with no workers' protection or insurance:

They spread glue, fit fastenings, clean, cut thread, pare, polish soles, stitch and apply decorations. Unlike the child worker operating in a slightly more structured organisation ... here they work at benches backstitching ... the phase which requires most manual labour. ... The children work mainly seated, getting up only occasionally for a break. The work is very monotonous ... Children live with parents or relatives, and 'learn to work' by going to the shoe factory with their parent or another adult. Some employers consider they are doing the parents of the child a favour. In one case interviewed, the child herself says: 'Sometimes I arrive late, and I can rest sometimes, but I use the free time to sweep up and leave the place clean. Whilst I am there, if I am not busy I go to the boss's house (which is opposite) to help the girl who works in the house, washing and other things ... the factory is like my second home; whenever I am there, if there is anything to eat we eat, drink coffee as though it were our own home.' (15)

The girl in question works from 7 to 11 o'clock, goes home for lunch, returns to work from 11.25 to 13.30, goes to school from 14.30 to 18.50, returns to work from 19.00 to 23.00. For this she receives half the minimum wage fixed by the government. Of all interviewed, hardly a single boy or girl was receiving a minimum wage as fixed by the State - most were receiving less than half this. Part, and nearly always the whole, of their earnings go to help in family expenses:

'All my money goes to buy clothes for my brothers and sisters, sometimes for me but more for my younger brothers and sisters ...'. It is common for two or three members of the family to be working at the same bench. The majority of those interviewed said they had friends and siblings of the same age working at the same bench doing the same job as them.

A few mentioned headaches from the glue, one said:

'At the beginning I noticed the smell of the glue and it bothered me, and when I got home I had a bad headache. Before I would take a glass of milk, now I take three or four glasses of milk and I don't get them.' Another bought a mask and then didn't notice any more after they changed the glue. (15)

The main problems for these workers, who live very close to both the banca and the school, is the poor air quality and prolonged inhalation of the glue and solvents.


Children are used on sugar cane plantations throughout Brazil. Most of the cane is grown on large plantations that own both the fields and the processing plants. In Ribeirao Preto, it is estimated that there are 40,000 to 50,000 workers in cane cutting. In the municipality of Sertaozinho there are some 15,000 of which 10% are illegally employed because they are under 18. Children of 12-14 were encountered at one site of sugar cane cutting. They said that they had been working there regularly since they were 11 or 12, sometimes younger. They get around the law by falsifying papers in various ways. One study says that the percentage of unregistered children at the plantations is as high as 90%. They usually work with their families. In Bahia state's Reconcavo Region, a worker must cut around four tons of sugar cane a day to receive the minimum wage. To do this, the support of the whole family is needed. The payment goes to the head of the household. (16, CUT Brazil, 1993)

Conditions for sugarcane cutters are extremely bad. They work 12-14 hour days (leaving for work at 4 a.m.) starting without breakfast. They carry candles with them to work in the hours before daylight. The journey to work may be 20 kms (in very poorly maintained vehicles) for which the worker has to pay. There are minimal facilities for personal hygiene. Accidents from cane and implements are frequent - knife wounds account for over 85% of all injuries. These repeated injuries to their limbs cause irreparable damage and put an early end to their cane-cutting "careers." In addition, they work in intense heat from burning cane and the sun and inhale toxic fumes from the smoke and from other products being burnt. Insects are another hazard. There are great difficulties in carrying and keeping food edible throughout the day. The work is repetitive and physically exhausting. With additional pressure to work fast so as to meet high production quotas, there is also physical and emotional stress. Breaks are infrequent and short and workers age early.

Children interviewed stated that they found it very difficult to get to school, and to stay awake once there, they were so tired. The teachers seem to know the children are working (probably illegally) and say nothing. They know that adults do not earn enough to provide for the family. One child said: 'I give everything I earn to my father to pay for food.' (16)

In 1994, labour inspectors found 500 workers, including children, in factories making distilled alcohol from sugar in Mato Grosso do Sul. They were supervised by armed guards and were only allowed out of the compound on pay day. (10)


Children from the age of 7 upwards were interviewed on the tea plantations in the Vale do Ribiera region. They are not employed directly by the estate owners or factory operators although some families do have a contract with an agriproduction company. The children work to complement the earnings of the parents, or relatives, the family group being hired for pruning and other activities. They are paid for the amount of tea harvested and delivered to one of the surrounding factories. The money is all used for food, rarely for clothes or anything else.

The bushes are low and since the work is backbreaking for adults, it is considered easy and therefore suitable for young children. Routine tasks include picking the shoots and stripping them. There is no previous training. The children learn by 'watching and doing.' The children say they get 'short breaks when I am tired.' They have scratches on their arms and legs from the plants. They wear only shorts, shortsleeved tops, and 'mule'-type rubber sandals, or go barefoot. There are hazards from snakes, lizards and bees, from the sharp instruments and machinery used including blades as well as toxic fumes from machinery and handling of chemical products used on the land and the plants.

Dwellings may be provided, but with no water or electricity, and they may be near to the entrance to the property or near machinery sheds, so acting as an informal guard. The empreteira (jobber) family receives no state benefits of any kind. The children said they enjoy working but thought the parents' work hard and poorly paid. Many wanted to leave the work 'when they grow up.' They see trucks continually going in and out of the property and say they want to be 'lorry drivers.' (17, CUT Brazil, ILO-IPEC, 1993)


The tin industry employs children on a significant scale. A Confederacao Geral dos Trabalhadores (CGT) report on the Bom Futuro Cassiterite (tin-ore) mine in the state of Rondonia stated that of around 3,500 people working at the mine, 600 were children and adolescents. It reported that women and children were found digging tunnels by hand and searching for veins of cassiterite in the mud in Amazonia - an area rife with malaria. (1) It concluded that "the entire process of mineral extraction at the mine ... systematically violates trade unions' and human rights as defined by the International Labour Organisation."


There have been many reports of the appalling conditions of child labour in the charcoal industry. Charcoal is important to the metallurgy industry. Press reports in Brazil and a report by Anti-Slavery International have detailed what the children have to do: rake up the charcoal, put it into sacks and put it into the kilns. Many are debt-bonded or forced labourers. The Vice President of the CUT stated recently that:

People who have tried to escape have been murdered - 15 bodies were found by the military police in a hidden cemetery ... [the workers] must buy inferior quality food and all supplies at over-priced company stores and are constantly in debt. The father is the one who is contracted and then is forced to put his children to work to pay off the debt... Until recently, authorities denied the entire situation. When labor inspectors came to visit a site, they were given a party and the workers were hidden. (quoted in 1)

Anti-Slavery Internation says: "the metallurgy companies ... try to maintain an arms-length relationship with workers through the use of sub-contractors". (quoted in 1)


Child labour in Chile is by no means a new phenomenom; however, commercial exploitation of children is increasing. Many millions of people remain below the poverty line providing readily-exploitable labour for those employers seeking competitive advantage at any cost, exploitation which is made easier in the absence of comprehensive labour and social standards.

The government of Chile has yet to give the fight against child labour the priority it deserves. There is legislation designed to prevent children from working, but it is neither properly observed nor enforced. Children work in both agriculture and commerce.

In 1987, it was estimated that there were 107,000 working children of whom 97,000 were in the informal sector. These children work as street traders, collectors of waste cardboard and paper, and other activities, without any form of legal protection. Even those in the formal sector suffer from discrimination in respect of lower wages, shorter rest periods and are subject to physical and moral dangers. (18, UN report)


Many children are employed in supermarkets which are seeking to make more profits by providing flexible, competitive services with very little outlay on labour costs by using child labour. No wages are paid. The law says if they do anything other than packing in supermarkets they must have a contract but they rarely do. To get around the law the managers call their child workers - who may be as young as 9 years old - 'packers', while the children call themselves propineros (people living off tips). The supermarkets impose standards of behaviour and appearance, require permission from parents, certificates, photos, etc. - all things required in formal sector jobs - even though they don't supply contracts. The children work Monday to Sunday, two shifts per day. Their average take home income is likely to be 32,000 pesos per month but is usually less. The children's work is viewed by the company as an extra, provided as a goodwill service to customers, who pay for it directly by means of tips. The children pack, deliver shopping for customers, move trolleys in carparks, clear up, clean, etc. Even if they do have a contract, the company may not honour it or explain clearly what's going on:

'I realised that from what they had paid me that they had taken a great cut. They made me wait ages. Others got paid, but I was made to wait until very late. They should have paid me about 18,000 pesos according to my contract, but they deducted I don't know what for taxes, and in the end they gave me 15,000 pesos. I told them about all the extra hours, I had done so many I should get quite a bit. I don't know. The accountant [said] come another day and ask him, so I never went back.' (quoted in 19, CUT, Chile)

The working conditions are dangerous and physically arduous for the young. There is pollution in the carparks and it is dangerous for children to be in the streets going home after eleven o'clock at night.

Street markets

In the ferias persas (street markets) a child may serve five employers at five different stands. For example, at Central Station, Santiago, some 500 children work 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. There are no contracts, only verbal agreements, although this work is in the 'formal' sector. They have only half an hour break at lunchtime. Average pay is 1,290 pesos per day. They may earn less because the costs of any goods stolen from stalls are deducted from their income. The children prepare the stands, try and attract customers, clear up at end of day and walk home last thing at night. Robbery with violence, physical exhaustion and mental disturbance are some consequences of this type of work as are attacks late at night on the way home. (19)


A recent government census found that around 800,000 children between the ages of 12 and 17 work in Columbia. However, other analysts have put the figure as high as 3 million, (14) and a recent Colombian newspaper report put it even higher - at 4 million. The average age being around twelve-and-a half-years old. Children work in the flower agribusiness, coal mining, leather tanning and brick kilns, and there is also the familiar problem of niños de calle (street children) who have to use desperate strategies to survive. More than 90% of the street children are involved in some form of survival strategy. In a survey: 63.8% of the children were working, most commonly in itinerant sales. 16.9% cited 'stealing' as their principal occupation.

Since the 1950s, Colombia has pursued an aggressive policy of "modernisation," moving from a protected market to a free market. The economy has been opened up to international companies and wide-ranging structural adjustment policies have been implemented to achieve this including extensive privatisation of nationalised industries. It is estimated that at least 50% of national economic activity is now in the informal (unregulated) sector which largely employs women and children providing very low incomes.. One commentator noted that "the economy is going well ... but the country ... is very unwell." (Quoted in 14)

Coal mining

Despite substantial technological development in the coal-mining industry, much of Colombia's coal still comes from small, informal and marginal mining operations. Coal is a major export. A recent study of the use of children in the marginal coal mines in northwestern Colombia shows that children as young as six work with their families in the mines, carrying water out of the mines, leading the loaded mules and packing coal into bags. Older children do the heavier work such as drilling. (1 and 20, CENSAT, "Agua viva," 1995). The workers face many hazards including landslides, floods, fires, explosions and gas; they suffer from overexertion, hernias, lack of oxygen and bone deformation. There are virtually no recreational facilities and the children tend to drink alcohol with their fathers on finishing work. Drug addiction is on the increase. Schools are provided but many of the children do not attend because of the hours they work at the mines. The children most commonly work an eight-hour day for piece rates and so end up being paid less than the minimum wage. The majority of mines where children work are illegal so the child workers are invisible. The work these children do contravenes all the laws on Colombia's statute books regarding the employment of children but enforcement and punishment of law-breakers is minimal or nonexistent. (20)

The effect of working in the mines on children is extreme but then so are the circumstances that drive them there:

The little women and men who traipse towards the deposits under the rain with trays on their heads ... have to hand over everything to their elders. This is dictated by the poverty in which they live where teeth can be heard grinding with hunger against the background of the morning and evening television soap operas. But this is the outcome of a series of inequalities which affect everyone and which finally twist and break the back of the most vulnerable, the little ones. ... There are days when life is so cruel that the children would like never to leave school to return to their district. None of them want to work like adults. The last thing they want is to plunge forever seminaked and with bare feet into the clay of the mines. They know that you cannot earn good money in the mines. Mineworkers are hit by measles, fungi and are driven mad with back pain. Their skin peels off them, calluses bleed and suppurate, their muscles stiffen with cramps and fingers and toes become deformed into hooks. (14)


The cut flower industry might seem like light relief in comparison but there are risks to children in this agribusiness as in any other. They are often exposed to toxic substances during and after the spraying of pesticides, they suffer from physical exhaustion, posture problems and impaired development. On many plantations the children are not provided with either protective clothing or adequate work equipment. (1) The children do virtually all the tasks required for processing the flowers for export: rooting, planting, lifting the plants, clipping stalks, forking, debudding, cold storage room work and packaging. Many of them come into the enterprises through their parents who are already employed there.

Dominican Republic

In recent years, the economy of the Dominican Republic has been moving from a mainly agricultural economy to one based more on manufacturing and services. The sugar plantations, although still an important part of the economy, have been in part replaced by the new export processing zones. However, neither provide a stable basis for development or prospects for social improvement. The sugar industry has always been erratic, reliant on the world price of sugar, and the export processing zones are dependent on conditions remaining favourable to the multinationals which use them. Foreign capital has always been an important part of life in the Republic working in concert with the Dominican elite. (21, Ferguson, 1992) Official unemployment is invariably high, sometimes reaching 40%. Despite this, there are never enough workers to cut the sugar cane because many Dominican workers refuse to do this work under the prevailing conditions. Thus, labour - often forced labour - has been traditionally imported from Haiti. Among these forced labourers are many children. (21) To see how this comes about, we need to look very briefly at children in Haiti. Their plight is pitiful. UNICEF estimates that there are 200,000 children "in exceptionally difficult circumstances" in Port-au-Prince alone. Around 52% of children in Haiti between the ages of two and five suffer from malnutrition. The conditions for children in the Dominican Republic itself are not much better. The governments of both countries have failed to protect their children and it has been stated outright that the Dominican government actively encourages forced labour by children on the sugar plantations. (22, Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, 1991)


Since 1986, there has been no contract between Haiti and the Dominican Republic to regulate the supply of cane cutters. This has led to ad hoc methods of recruitment "including force, abduction, deceit, and national roundups of dark-skinned 'Haitian-looking' people." (22) The children are caught up in a desperate attempt to find cheap labour where the legal means are lacking. One boy described how:

A man approached him one day and made promises about work in the Dominican Republic. [He] then accompanied the man to the border where a Dominican military captain brought him over. He was kept for three days in a "smelly camp" guarded by soldiers. He was then transported by bus to Batey Haiti Mejia. He said he believed the man who took him to the border because he was an adult and he "just believed him."

Life on the sugar plantation was described by a group of boys interviewed by the Lawyers' Committee:

They cut cane from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week. They do not go to school and do not even know where they are. They sleep in a tiny room with four other boys. They do not know how much or when they should be paid for their work. They eat some rice once a day. Like the other cane cutters, they cannot leave. They seemed completely confused and frightened and when asked, said they wanted to return to Haiti.

Another group of boys interviewed, one of whom was eight years old, showed the Committee their sleeping quarters:

The room is bare except for a few bent and rusty bunk beds that have neither matresses nor blankets. There is no electricity or running water.

Every child interviewed thought that cane cutting was a dangerous job.


Over 40% of the population of Ecuador is under 14 years old and around 60,000 young people join the labour market every year.

Unemployment is rising rapidly as the government pursues its 'modernisation of the state'. In 1993 it was estimated that over three-quarters of the population lived below the poverty line and 30% in absolute poverty (23, CEOSL report, 1994) as part of the informal economy. There are conflicting figures on child labour. UNICEF says the total is around 1,000,000 while the latest official census estimates 487,945. Most working children are in the rural areas where child labour is considered a form of training and socialisation. However, the increase in child workers and the reduction in adult wage-earning family members has meant that the traditional picture of children at work is disappearing - economic exploitation of children is now the order of the day. In addition, street children have become a permanent feature of urban life.

Street children

The State largely ignores the problem of its thousands of street children. There is tacit social acceptance of their existence. The trade unions refuse to accept this, seeing the street children as a result of social policy - or rather the lack of it:

Their existence should not be seen as a manageable phenomenon but rather a crude expression of the grave social deterioration we are experiencing. (23)

The lack of a public policy regarding the street children leaves them unprotected and vulnerable. Sexual and labour exploitation and illegal trafficking are common. For example, there has been an increasing number of complaints about the sexual abuse and serious mistreatment of child workers in the main port of Guayaquil. The majority of 'disappeared children' - possibly through illegal trafficking - are child workers and street children.

Street children have certain common characteristics: they start work young, are exploited at work, lack physical shelter, are subject to hostility and mistreatment by adults, and experience violence and a high level of crime, with raids and searches by the police. They suffer from malnutrition and other health defects such as persistent psychological and emotional stress. Iliteracy, truancy and the use of drugs (especially inhalants) are endemic as are sexual precociousness and prostitution. These children have a background of extreme poverty, where their mothers have often been forced into prostitution, or come from families where violence is the norm. In other words, they are the product of the progressive disintegration of the family. Street children have all, in one way or another, broken ties with their families. Despite the risks it presents, the street can offer an alternative. For thousands of poor children the street is the best option.

The breakdown of the family structure reflects the wider social causes which push children into work and into street life. It's easy to be good parents in a comfortable house, with a stable and well-paid job, with time for relaxation, or with servants to do the washing, cook and clean the house. It is harder when poverty seeps in like a nightmare, when you go to sleep thinking about how you will manage to eat the next day, when the daily struggle for survival saps all your physical, psychological and emotional energy. Child labour is the result of a system which creates poverty on a massive scale, and cannot therefore be assessed at the level of individual family relationships but only on the political level. (23)


Peru suffers from a high level of external debt and stringent budgetary measures have reduced resources available for social expenditure while neoliberal structural adjustment policies have led to industrial recession and massive unemployment. Only 12% of the population is adequately employed. The objective is to open up the national market to free competition with unlimited facilities for private investment. These measures have included systematic violation of economic, social and labour rights, and have not taken into account the knock-on effects on children. Political violence since 1980 has led to 600,000 people, including 350,000 children, fleeing death and the destruction of family and home. Increased poverty and violence have forced children onto the streets, and growing levels of delinquency, prostitution and drug trafficking have completely undermined the values of civilised society.

Vulnerable children are affected by this increased poverty; because of the reductions in social expenditure 47% of the National Plan of Action for Children remains to be financed. (24, UN, 1993)

It is estimated by NGOs that there are 3,600,000 children working, the majority in rural areas. UNICEF estimates that there are now 250,000 children working in Metropolitan Lima: 50% in the informal sector. They work as shoe shiners, car washers, beggars, street performers and loaders. 80% of these children are under 12 years old. According to the journal CUANTO (January 1994), there was a massive increase in family-based employment between 1981 and 1993. Most of the increase has been in travelling traders and small producation units. Children are legally only allowed to work from the age of 14 but the State is unable or unwilling to enforce this law. According to a Ministry of Labour study (1988), the economically active population (EAP) includes over one million children from the ages of six to 14 - (10% of the total EAP and about one-fifth of the children of this age group). Government figures confirm at least 150,000 working children in Lima, receiving up to one-third of the legal minimum wage, with an unknown number working in the informal sector. The CUT says there are increasing numbers of four and five year old children working. (25, Meiggs Flores, 1994)

Domestic child workers

A significant percentage of female child labour is employed in the domestic sector (13,263 in the 1981 Census); however, it is impossible to assess the real numbers as many are undeclared and unacknowledged.

These children are often involuntary migrants whose parents cannot afford to keep them. Most 'sleep in,' working a minimum of 10 hours a day. They hardly ever receive money, occasionally they might get a tip. They generally accept that they have the benefit of 'a better place to live and have left their homeland in order to get on in the world.' Thus their 'benefactors' keep control and do not have to declare any form of work. As this is the only model of relationship which the children experience, they perceive themselves as children, behave with a high degree of servility, are grateful, unable to make independent decisions, and not aware of or claiming any better treatment. They have no support networks and are vulnerable to physical mistreatment and sexual abuse.

A domestic employee does have certain rights under the law but these are rarely complied with by the employer. For example, they get only three official days off a year and 15 days vacation (whereas other workers are entitled to a month).

A woman who was once a child domestic worker describes the life she led: You play with the employer's children but if anything goes wrong, it is your fault. The employers' children go to school. You get no schooling. Your employer may beat you up or threaten to send you back to the interior if you don't do as you are told or come up to expectations. Your room is hot and cramped.

The work is totally isolating. You feel desperate. There is no plea-sure. You often go out but in your uniform and to look after children. You are always with the family but you don't participate. You miss your family. I cried a lot when I left my home.

The danger of sexual abuse is not only within the employer's house. Girls in this situation are very vulnerable. They don't know anything about anything - they don't read. They may try to go out in the evenings. Then they are an easy mark to the first boy to show them affection. Many get pregnant; they can drift into prostitution. Some of those who do find they prefer it.

These children are totally beyond the protection of the law - we see a few cases in the paper of a child being burned, or wounded or even thrown from a building but nothing much comes out of it. (26, Allesbrook and Swift, 1989).

Garbage tips and municipal rubbish dumps

Perhaps some of the worst physical conditions are experienced by children who make their living by scavenging among the dregs of what others have discarded:

After the pigs have finished eating any food scraps from the rubbish dumped. ... the process of separating out different types of materials begins. This is done by the keeper ('guardian') of the site and his family or by adults or children contracted in. Other operators cachivacheros (junk dealers) rent a plot of land to receive lorries with no food in their loads. They work with their family or hire adults or children on contract to sort the goods as they arrive. (25)

Children work and live here with their own family or with other people operating at the site. They also work alone, finding anything which they can find a buyer for, either on or off the dump. Sometimes trucks come to the site specifically looking to buy a particular type of junk. In one of the largest of these tips,

El Basural del Fundo Oquendo in Callao, the main port:

Conditions are filthy, the children are surrounded by an appalling odour of putrefaction and of pigs, of smoke from burning rubbish, gangs of marauding dogs, other children and garbage operators. The children's living and working environment also includes bathing in the sea and playing on the beach in appallingly contaminated conditions; groups of naked children, dogs, pigs and gulls all swim together.

Gold mining

In the Peruvian forests, there are gold prospecting camps that employ children as slaves. ... both male and female are sold to the masters of the camps by contractors in the Peruvian Sierra who trick them (with false contracts). They are taken, by deceit, to these camps to work in subhuman conditions. Secret graves have been found with the remains of unidentified children (according to media reports). Children who have escaped speak of the violent treatment they have received: girls are raped, boys are beaten, they only have one meal a day, no medical attention, no education and have to work 12 hours a day. (25)

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Lack of economic development in Africa, in particular the low level of development of agriculture, means a life lived at subsistence level for millions of African people. It is still common for children to work in the fields rather than be educated. Research on child labour in Africa is sparse but the ILO estimates that at least a quarter of all children under 14 in Africa work, and in some countries this percentage rises to 50%. There is not a great deal of evidence of large numbers of children working in the formal sector. Most children work in the rural, the domestic and the informal sectors. In North African countries where garments and carpets are part of an export industry, children and families are known to be regularly involved in subcontracting arrangements. (1) It is difficult to discover the extent of child labour, particularly in rural areas, partly because unlike urban children, rural children have traditionally helped with their families' economic activities. What counts as "helping out" and what as exploitation?

The ILO has stressed that there is increasing child exploitation as commercialisation and urbanisation have grown. (27, ILO, 1989) Children sell and trade food on the streets, wash cars, work at kiosks, serve as domestic helpers, tan and dye raw leather products, fetch water, collect firewood, herd animals, and harvest crops on family farms on commercial plantations. The US Deparment of Labour found that they also work in gold and diamond mines, weave carpets and process sisal - all of which are exported. Children also are increasingly involved in high risk activities such as prostitution - something hitherto unknown in the region. (27) A UNICEF Advisor noted increased organised exploitation of children in military mobilisation,and has commented that ... The extent and severity of expolitation of child workers is increased by ... social unheaval related to armed conflicts, [natural] disasters, and major economic shifts as well as the persistence of economic inequity within traditional societies. (27)

As in other parts of the world, the expenditure on arms by many governments has been cited by the United Nations as a factor in child labour alongside a corresponding lack of expenditure on education. (28, UN report, 1986) Many African countries, as is the case elsewhere, lack a coherent national policy and the political will to deal with child labour as well as pleading the usual serious inspection and enforcement problems. As in other areas of the world - such as Asia and Latin America - family and community breakdown, which has lead to the phenomenon of street children, is a major part of the problem. In addition, social attitudes are also involved in that many people still don't see child labour as a problem.


43% of the Mauritanian population is under 15. The official unemployment rate is at least 35%. There is evidence that despite having been banned by the government, slavery as it is traditionally understood still exists in Mauritania. Perhaps the strongest evidence, according to an Anti-Slavery International report (29, Anti-Slavery International, 1992) are the recurring examples of the kidnapping of children. Abductions are frequent and the purpose is to enslave the children involved. The most usual abductors are the desert-dwelling camel-drivers. Cases that have been reported are:

Yacoub, a ten year old boy, disappeared from one of the shelters for street children in Nouakchott [the capital]. The programme's educationalists thought he had run away and started a search as his family had not heard from him either. He was found ... 400 km away in the desert, among camel drivers who had abducted him.

Two Halpulaar boys narrowly escaped abduction after a long chase in the savannah by jumping into the Gorgol river in southern Mauritania. Their would-be kidnappers, camel drivers who lived in the desert, presumably could not swim. (29)

Desertification and repeated droughts since the 1960s have resulted in a transformation of traditional nomadic society with massive migration to the urban areas. The population of the capital city is growing at around 10% a year. Over 40% of the population is under 15. Many of them live in the growing shantytown around Nouakchott:

Salem Ould Brahim is ... nine years old and an orphan, he lives with Abe Ould Amar, a water seller in the Kebba.... Abe owns the donkey and supervises the filling of the drum at the pump ... Salem is the salesman, circulating all day around the shacks to find a market ... Salem can earn 100 ouguiyas a day [about US$2] for himself if he sells four barrelsfull but most of this will go back to Abe for his keep. There is no question of school for Salem and asked about the future, he looks blank. It is enough ... that he has a role in life and knows there will be a meal at the end of the day. (30, UNICEF report)

Mauritania is, like most developing countries, heavily in debt. Programmes of structural adjustment negotiated with the World Bank and the IMF are in place and recently new conditions were introduced. (30) As with other structural adjustment programmes, these policies are expected to do little, if anything, to resolve the problem of child labour.



Children are found working in Zimbabwe's export-oriented mining sector. There is no documented formal employment of children in the mines but independent operators and subcontractors regularly use child labour in mining chromium and gold panning. (1). An ILO report on child labour in Zimbabwe (quoted in 1) stated as an example that purchasing contracts between middlemen for large mining concerns and small mine workings in Darwendale and Mutoroshanga set prices so low that women and children were drafted to work in order to increase output. The chrome was produced by the small mine workers at a fixed price per ton which represented less than a third of the price paid by large mines to middlemen. The children who worked to produce such profits for these middlemen lacked safe working conditions, had no monitoring of work hazards and no protective clothing. ... Children are also reported to work in chrome-mining cooperatives where the "open cast" surface mining method is used.

The government of Zimbabwe has enthusiastically promoted cooperatives which are not regulated by any government department concerned with employment or social policy. Children are reported to do the actual digging as well as the sorting of chrome from rubbish and in underground mines, lift mined material to the surface. (1)

Gold panning

Widespread gold panning was the response of many rural people to drought, poor harvests, structural adjustment policies and depressed prices. It is now one of the largest sources of employment in the country and a major ecological problem. Families, including children, pan together since the more panners in the family, the more gold. (1)


If you thought child labour in Europe and the USA went out in the nineteenth century, think again. Although the problem is smaller in Northern European countries because of the enforcement of child labour laws and the requirements of compulsory education, in Southern Europe it has become an area of great concern, particularly in export industries.

Great Britain

The Children Act of 1989 was hailed as the most comprehensive and far-reaching reform of child law this century. (31, Bradshaw, 1990) However, the heavy demands on limited services have rendered many of the Act's intentions inoperative. One-third of all children in Britain now live in, or on the margins of, poverty according to the Child Poverty Action Group. There are no official figures on employment of workers under 16 years of age. A local survey carried out by the Low Pay Unit discovered that 40% of the children surveyed were in one way or another engaged in "a trade or occupation carried out for profit" that is, jobs other than babysitting, running errands or similar unregulated employment. (31) A survey by Moorehead (32, Moorehead, 1987) confirms this figure. The LPU survey also indicated that there is a connection between the unemployment of parents and children working and that in London, four out of five of the employed children were performing illegal work - either because the children were under age or because the work was unsuitable for children. As children increasingly grow up in low-income families, more will seek work, much of it unofficial and illegal. A report by the opposition employment

spokesperson stated:

The illegal employment of children is widespread; that local authorities do not have the resources to deal with this problem; that many by-laws are out of date and ineffective; and that the safety, welfare and development of children are at considerable risk... This report ... indicates the tip of the iceberg. (33, Clwyd, 1994)

Many of the local and regional councils questioned in the survey stated that they were aware that child labour was a problem but did not have the resources to deal with it. Examples of what the survey found included:

In May 1994, a 15 year old boy was killed after falling into a tank of water at an electroplating factory. The West Midlands Health and Safety Executive are currently considering whether or not to bring a case against the company. ...

During an inspection of a fish-processing plant in North Tyneside, two officers independently noted young people employed peeling prawns, including one who was estimated at 8-9 years old by one officer and 10 years old by the other. The time was approximately 9.45 p.m.

A delivery boy of 13 years old ended up in hospital with serious internal injuries after he was run over by his employer's milk float. [Trade union research in other countries such as New Zealand has underlined the high risks to children working in delivery of milk, newspapers, etc. of injury and death from road accidents.}.

A press report (34, Guardian, 1994) recorded how a boy of 14 working for a pound an hour in a bedding factory suffered severe injuries when his arm was trapped in an unguarded machine. His arm was broken and ripped open by spikes on a revolving drum when he reached into the machine to free some fibres. There have been two recent cases of firms - one a meat processing firm and the other a magazine packaging company - being brought to court for employing underage children. One well-known retail company is reportedly considering legal action against a television company that produced a documetary claiming that children as young as 14 were employed in Morocco to make their products. (35, Independent, 1996)

Even when children help in family businesses, they still suffer hardship. Moorehead (32) found that this category contained some of the worst cases of hardship since the whole of the child's otherwise leisure hours are spent assisting their parents. Among the jobs children do are: paper rounds, shops, markets, milk rounds, cleaning, building, farms, jobs in the catering trade, hairdressing, garages, car washes and piecework. Some children had more than one job.

Imports of child labour-produced goods into the UK are also coming under the spotlight.


The United Kingdom also has a problem of child prostitution. A recent article (but not the first) tells the story of a young prostitute found dead. She was one of between 3,000 and 5,000 children and adolescents engaged in the British sex industry. In the areas of Bradford and Sheffield, they can be found hard at work:

Weekends are the busiest for the young ones, older prostitutes say. On a Friday and Saturday night you get "half a dozen of them between 12 and 16 on the street," says 26-year-old Anne-Marie who has worked on the streets for the last eight years...

During the last five years, more and more men have found themselves a nice little earner. Children under 16 can take more than [a hundred pounds] a night... The Children's Society says there has been a steady rise in the number of children in prostitution. More than 3,000 were approached by police in 1989-93 - an increase of 50 % on previous years. (36, Guardian, 1996)


It is estimated that there are several hundred thousand children involved in work of one sort or another in Italy. The main areas are the big cities - Naples, Milan, Turin, Genoa and the provinces of Apulia, Sicily and Alazio. Many of these children play truant from school in order to work. The inspectorates often see their job as pointless - the small factories that are closed down merely move somewhere else and start up again with the same conditions as before. (37, Vittachi, 1989) An added problem is that the mafia now interests itself in the exploitation of children.


Outworking is a major form of exploitation of children and the shoe industry is a major area where the informal economy operates in thousands of small, scattered workplaces making law enforcement virtually impossible. One 14 year-old described the conditions in one of these small shoe factories:

Winter was approaching and the window by our section was closed... The place where twenty-five of us worked was 10 metres [long]… we had to sit with our backs against each other. The air became unbreathable because of the stench that could not escape... The whole place was damp and unhealthy; there were spiders, cockroaches and rats. Our cloakroom was a tiny room in which the gum and solvents were stored. After work when we went to get changed, we would find our clothes damp, cold and reeking of gum.

A few months later she was ill:

To start with I was sick and went off my food; then I began to notice a tingling in my ankles, knees and arms. I ... went on working till I had not the strength to get up. By March I could no longer walk. A buckling of the legs caused me several times to fall to the ground at work.

The Mafia and Mafia-style organisations are deeply involved in child labour in Italy. Marina Valcarenghi, in a report on child labour for Anti-Slavery International, believes they have achieved significant penetration of the labour market in Milan as well as in Sicily, involving large numbers of children.

Parents are sometimes even grateful to an employer for giving a child a job, even if the child is desperately unhappy:

In 1976, Michele Colonna, an Italian shepherd boy aged 14, committed suicide. Sold at the age of 10 to a farmer, he lived a life of virtual slavery ... Michele ran away several times but his father always sent him back. Finally he could stand it no more and he shot himself.

Despite the outrage at this case, UNICEF says "today travelling in Southern Italy and Sardinia, you can still see little shepherd boys like Michele roaming the mountain slopes from dawn to dusk with their flocks." (quoted in 37)


Portuguese child labour is on the increase. More children are being used by small businesses attempting to retain competitiveness in the European market. The children are used in unskilled jobs at piece rates, and as with other children the world over, will never extract themselves from the trap of lack of education and basic skills:

Roza wants to make up her missing studies by taking evening classes in Vizela. At the age of 13 she worked in the Textis factory for [fifteen US dollars] a month. On the day the Factory Inspector was to inspect the place, the owner told the older workers to claim they earned more and the younger ones to say they were cousins, just there to 'lend a hand.' Isabel, in the same class as Roza, was working in a clothing factory at the age of 11 and hid in a cardboard box whenever the Factory Inspectors came. Both hope that education will take them away from the boxes and the lies. (38, van Herpen, 1990)

Accidents are common, and some end in death: Francisco Jose Da Silva was just 13 years old when he was killed by a materials hoist in a workplace accident. Today the youngster's grave is enclosed by two marble slabs on which his father, Joachim, had engraved an epitaph. "My time came too soon. The fault lies with fate, not the Mora factory." Jose was employed by the Reinaldo Mora's textile

factory. At month-end, he could contribute six "contos,'' about

[thirty seven US dollars], to the household income. (38)

Child labour is found all over Portugal: the metallugy, commerce, tourism, textiles, construction, pottery and wood industries, in particular use child labour. Shoemaking, domestic service and clothing are also known to use child workers extensively.

Examples of what children do in the shoe industry in Portugal are given in a report by Suzanne Williams. (39, Williams,1992) She quotes a report by the magazine Expresso, describing the web of subcontracted labour that is the basis of the Portuguese shoe industry:

In the town of Amarante near Felgueiras, a retired policeman picks up the leather for shoes from several factories... and distributes them to some of the 2,000 people who sew shoes at home in the region - often at night, by the light of the hearth... He returns [the sewn uppers] to the factories which either finish them there or send them on to the larger Portuguese or multinational companies to sew on the well-known brand labels which will eventually enable them to be sold at high prices all over the word. Most of these shoes are hand-sewn by children.

Portuguese shoes are mainly sold to European countries, distributed through well-known companies ..The workers may get as little as 50 US cents a pair. The shoes are sold in other European countries for up to US$70.


The textile and garment industry in Portugal, also operating on the basis of subcontracted labour, brings in $4.08 billion in export earnings. (39):

Sonia and Sandra are both 11 years old and make dressing gowns in the same small garment factory in the town of Sao Joao de Ver, in the district of Aveiro. The factory is in the basement of a house and of the five workers, the oldest is 15. Sonia has dropped out of school with only two years of schooling. Sandra has had five years of school. Each of the girls earns around US$2 for a nine-and-a-half-hour day. Here again we see the same patterns as elsewhere in the world of children dropping out of school to increase family income and thus being left without the resources to earn a more decent living later in life. According to the Ministry of Education which carried out a survey of pupils, the main motives for abandoning studies early were, in the opinion of the pupils, in order to enter the labour market, and because of economic difficulties in the family. (quoted in 39)


The ceramics industry also uses children to carry and to work the clay and also to paint the designs. According to Williams (39), there were 120 clandestine factories producing ceramics in the Municipality of Barcelos, west of Braga, from which foreign buyers bought directly. Around 60% of children in the area work in the factories in the school holidays. One factory regularly employs children in the holidays to meet the increased demand for their products abroad - including Beatrix Potter animals for the UK market.


Around 16% of the population is under 16. Some sources say that there are more than 400,000 children doing one sort of work or another in Spain. (40, UGT report, 1991) Some do the same work as adults for half the wage in factories; many work in tandem with their school education five or six hours a day for family businesses with no pay; they work in shops, bars, agricultural jobs; they work in street markets, selling, cleaning car windows at traffic lights. Being part of the informal economy, they have no legal protection and have no awareness of danger or risk in what they do. Many give up their studies without completing them - especially those working in agriculture and construction.

Spain has its street children too. Many work in shoe cleaning, itinerant selling, collecting cardboard and other more marginal activities such as begging or prostitution. In 51% of cases surveyed by the UGT in 1991, the reason the children worked was to help increase the meager family income. In 14.4% of cases their parents pushed them into work. The majority began work before the age of 10 and another third began

betweeen the ages of 11 and 14.

USA and Canada

In 1990, the US Department of Labor launched "Operation Child Watch" to crack down on child labour law violations. Investigators found more than 1,450 children 14-17 years old illegally employed in hazardous occupations and about 225 children under 14 also illegally employed. There were child labour law violations in more than 1,760 of the 3,776 businesses investigated. The total figure from the investigations made that year revealed more than 20,000 minors illegally employed. Known child labour violations have risen from 8,731 in 1984 to around 40,000 in 1990.

Children are known to be employed in sweatshops, pizza delivery, car washes, agriculture, and fast food. A Government study reported that 48 children were killed and 128,000 injured in work-related accidents during 1987-88. Other estimates put the figures higher. An investigation in the Boston Globe reported that:

They live in poverty and neglect as they harvest our food, work in hundreds of dingy factories stitching "Made in America" tags into our clothes, assemble cheap jewelry in trailor homes and tenements, operate dangerous machines in restaurant kitchens and neighborhood stores. In town after town, they serve our fast food meals late at night, prepare our muffins and coffee in the morning.

Often they are scalded and burned, sliced up by food machines, exposed to pesticides in the field and choking fumes in the factory (41, AFL-CIO, 1991).

As in other countries, child labour in the USA and Canada has a long history stretching back to colonial days. Before the industrial revolution, it was considered desirable for a child to work.


Even in rural areas where it might be thought that work retains something of its "old quality," it can be quickly seen that work has changed there too - heavy and mechanised farm machinery is dangerous for

children but many farmers rely on them in the same way. This has lead to many tragic accidents:

Silos are extremely dangerous. They often contain nitrogen oxide gas which forms as chopped plant material begins to decompose. Death comes almost instantly on exposure to a heavy concentration of that gas. Trevor was supposed to go to school on the day he died but begged to stay on the family's ... dairy farm and help unload the silo. The hollow concrete tower was almost empty when the conveyor at its bottom clogged with silage. Instead of digging it out from below, Trevor found a rope and climbed to the top to lower himself in. His father saw him perched on the lip of disaster and shouted for him to come down. "I didn't yell hard enough at him, I guess - it's a little late now," Broek says, his voice quaking. ... In panic, Broek scrambled up the ladder on the silo's outer wall only to look down and see his boy dead on the silo floor, overcome by gas. (42, Toronto Star, 1993)

Children as young as seven are given scant instruction as to how to drive the heavy machinery they are given responsibility for: "Often training consists of: 'Here's the clutch, here's the brake, put it in gear and away you go.' I've seen it time and time again, you've got a child operating a tractor and he can hardly reach the steering wheel." (42) Children have been crushed, maimed and killed by heavy machinery but farmers argue that child labour is essential for economic survivial. They say grocery costs will rise if government stops the use of child and teenage labour. Keeping costs low is the major reason children are put at risk. But as one commentator put it, "We have to ask ourselves, do we really want to exploit children for cheap hamburgers and fries?"

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Part III


The trade union movement wants all child labour to be a thing of the past, not a reality of the global economy of the 21st century. Unions are especially committed to fighting the exploitation of children for commercial profit and the most severe abuses such as child prostitution and slavery.

This report shows clearly that child labour is an international problem requiring international action. Every country is affected by child labour either because large numbers of children are at work or because the products of child labour are sold to consumers. International action can only be effective if each and every country takes steps.

National action

The following are national measures which can and should be implemented:

Acknowledge the problem

The first step is to recognise the scale of the problem - too many countries are still prepared to turn a blind eye to child labour. Research into the level of child labour is an important starting point.

Support education

Probably the single most important action against child labour is for governments to give the necessary priority to funding education, particularly at primary level, especially since even very poor countries can manage to spend large amounts on the military while providing only a pittance for schools.

Enforce labour laws

Virtually every country has laws against child labour; however, too few countries enforce these laws or inspect enough workplaces where child labour is a problem. Those who profit from the exploitation of children should be made to face the full consequences of their actions.

Replace child workers with adults

Local level initiatives must be taken to get unemployed adults into jobs currently done by children, supported by funding to allow the children to go to school.

Stop the trade in child labour

Governments should take initiatives to stop the international trade of goods made by children. This involves support for child labour-free labelling (such as the RUGMARK for carpets), support for social clauses in trade agreements, withdrawing trade concessions for countries which continually tolerate child labour and taking action against multinational companies which exploit child labour either directly or through their subcontractors. Governments should also pass strong laws against exploitation of children abroad, following the lead of Australia, New Zealand and Sweden which now have such laws concerning sexual exploitation of children by their nationals in other countries.

Recognise trade union and other human rights

Trade unions are amongst the most effective organisations in stopping child labour. Where the fundamental rights of trade union rights to organise and bargain are violated, child labour is often one of the results. Similarly, the existence of child labour is often closely tied to abuses of other human rights such as discrimination and violations of fundamental democratic rights. Exploitation of children is also in a great many cases a result of corruption, in political and in economic life. Campaigning against child labour must also involve campaigning for full recognition of internationally-agreed human and trade union rights.

Ratify and implement ilo conventions

All governments should ratify and implement the relevant ILO Conventions, especially Convention 138. The ILO's technical assistance programmes, in particular the IPEC, are also of particular assistance to any country which wants to take serious steps against child labour and other violations of basic rights.

International action

The social clause

A Social Clause involving cooperation between the ILO and the World Trade Organisation would penalise countries which do nothing about child labour while providing the benefits of full trading rights to countries which take steps to eliminate child labour. Along with child labour, the Social Clause would cover basic trade union rights, discrimination and forced labour.

Multinational companies

These corporations should be pressed to ensure that their production does not involve child labour at any stage and to adopt and implement corporate codes of conduct in which they commit themselves not to allow violations of basic rights in any part of their operations or those of their subsidiaries and subcontractors. There is a clear need for international rules governing the behaviour of multinational companies.


Every person can take action to stop child labour by refusing to buy products made by children and insisting on "child labour-free" labels for products where child labour is known to be a problem.

International institutions should take concrete action

The ILO is playing a central role in helping governments to take action against child labour. Their work should be supported by all the other relevant UN agencies. The international financial institutions should give special attention to the effects of their lending criteria on the level of child labour, particularly where cuts in public finances result in less money for education, poverty alleviation, employment creation and labour law enforcement.

More research

Documenting the existence of child labour and conducting research into its economic and social causes and impacts provides the basis for action to stop the exploitation of children and to take the necessary steps to get adults into work and children into school.

The ICFTU, International Trade Secretariats and our national affiliates are committed to continuing and intensifying the international

campaign to end child labour. Unions will work with the International Labour Organisation and will cooperate with governments, nongovernment organisations and employers who show a real commitment to stop this abuse of the most vulnerable in society. We will draw public attention to those who exploit children or tolerate child labour in their countries and industries and take action to ensure that the types of abuses documented in this report are stopped and that those responsible are held accountable for their actions.

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1. US Department of Labor : By the Sweat and Toil of Children: the use of Child Labor in American Imports, a report to the Committee on Appropriations, US Congress, 1994

2. ILO (GB264/ESP/1), Paper submitted to Governing Body, November 1995

3. ICFTU : Child labour : The best kept secret, 1994

4. Report of ICFTU/APRO Subregional Seminar on Child Labour,

South Asia 11-13 July 1993

5. ICFTU/APRO : A Profile on Child Labour in South Asia, 1990

6. Anti-Slavery International: «Situation of the Bonded Child and Women in Nepal under the Kamaiya System», United Nations Economic and Social Council, 1994

7. Dhital, Rupa: «Voices» in Voice of Child Workers nº 23, October 1994, Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Center

8. ILO report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations [ III part 4 (A)], March, 1996

9. ICFTU/APRO/APFOL School Education Project Bonded Labour in the Brick Kiln Industry in Pakistan, 1995

10. US Department of Labor : By the Sweat and Toil of Children (Volume II) The use of Child Labor in US Agricultural Imports & Forced and Bonded Child Labour

11. Voices of Thai Women, nº 6, January 1992

12. «Raid on the Hell Factory», Script of Thai TV documentary, 1991

13. ICFTU : From the Ashes : a Toy Factory Fire in Thailand, 1995

14. Infancia y trabajo infantil en Colombia, ICFTU/ORIT, April 1994

15. Central Unica dos Trabalhadores: Mapeamento do trabalho infanto-

juvenil em Franca, na categoria dos sapateiros, Brazil, 1993

16. Mestriner, M.L. : Relatorio sobre «Mapeamento do trabalho de

crianças e adolescentes no corte da cana em Sertaozinho, Regiao de Ribeirao Preto», Central Unica dos Trabalhadores, Brazil, 1993

17. Central Unica dos Trabalhadores/OIT-IPEC : O trabalho infantil na

cultura do cha, regiao Vale do Ribeira, Central Unica dos Trabalhadores, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1993

18. Convención de la ONU sobre los Derechos del Niño, Informes

preliminares de los Estados, 1993, Chile, (CRC/C/3 Add. 18) june 1993

19. Central Únitaria de Trabajadores, El trabajo de menores en el sector comercio (Chile)

20. El trabajo infantil en la explotacion del carbon de Colombia y los

programas desarrollados para su erradicacion, Centro Nacional Salud, Ambiente y Trabajo, CENSAT «Agua Viva», 1995

21. Ferguson, J. : The Dominican Republic: Beyond the Lighthouse, Latin America Bureau, 1992

22. Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights : A Child Abducted: Children

cutting sugar cane in the Dominican Republic, 1991

23. Confederación Ecuatoriana de Organizaciones Sindicales Libres: Panorama General de la Niñez en el Ecuador, 1994

24. Convención de las Naciones Unidas sobre los Derechos del Niño, Perú, CRC/C/Add.

25. Meiggs Flores, Lidia E. : Trabajo Infantil en el Perú, ICFTU/ORIT, 1994

26. Allesbrook, A. and Swift, A. : Broken Promise: the World of Endangered Children, Hodder & Stoughton, 1989

27. ILO: Proceedings of the African Tripartite Regional Workshop on Measures to Combat Child Labour, Cairo, 10-14 September 1989 (PIACT/1989/11), Geneva

28. UN Seminar on ways and means of achieving the Elimination of Child Labour in all parts of the World, Geneva, 1985 (UN/ST/HR/SER.A/18), 1986

29. Anti-Slavery International : Slavery in Mauritania : report on field

research, March 1992

30. UNICEF : Mauritania (Country Kit) (n.d.)

31. Bradshaw, J. : Child Poverty and Deprivation in the UK, UNICEF International Child Development Centre, Innocenti Occasional Papers nº 8, 1990

32. Moorehead, Caroline : School Age Workers in Britain Today,

Anti-Slavery International, Child Labour Series nº 8, 1987

33. Clwyd, Ann: Children at Risk! An analysis of illegal employment of

children in Great Britain, Labour Party, 1994

34. Ward, David : «Factory Boss Fined», Guardian, 25.4.95

35. Boggan S. : «M&S may sue on child labour claims», Independent, 10.1.96

36. O'Kane, M. : «Death of Innocence», Guardian, 12.2.96

37. Vittachi, Anuradha : Stolen Childhood: in Search of the Rights of the Child, Polity Press/Channel 4, 1989

38. van Herpen, Astrid : Children and Youngsters in Europe: the New Proletariat?, ETUC, 1990

39. Williams, S. : Child Workers in Portugal, Anti-Slavery International, 1992

40. Unión General de Trabajadores : Informe - Condiciones del Trabajo de los Niños en España, UGT, 1991

41. Cole, Paul F. : Children at Work: Peril or Promise?, AFL-CIO, 1991

42. Toronto Star, 27.11.93

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