Every child has the right to education
Stop Child Labour makes no distintion between the 'worst' and 'less severe' forms of child labour. We work towards formal fulltime education for every child, based on international agreements and conventions.
The worst forms versus all forms of child labour
Because many people mistakenly assume that child labour is a ‘necessary evil’, only the worst forms of child labour, such as prostitution and slavery, are usually addressed. Indeed, it is easy for everyone to agree that these should be abolished. But this does not help children who carry out work that is labelled as less harmful. About 70% of child workers work on the land or in the household. These children, too, are seriously damaged, although it is perhaps less visible. Sometimes they do go to school but also have to work before and after school or only in certain seasons, such as harvest time. But their performance at school can actually suffer from this, as can their health, well-being and future prospects.
It should also be borne in mind that child workers cannot be easily classified into groups. Children could still be doing other work. They could be working in a mine during part of the year and on the land during the harvest season. Even if it were possible to draw a dividing line between the worst forms of child labour and less severe forms of child labour, it would still be pointless. What’s more, children aren’t interested in these labels. Is it fair when a child who had to forge iron with glowing coals does eventually go to school while his sister at home who is supposedly doing less damaging work is overlooked? She, too, has a right to education. It is clear that focusing on the worst forms of child labour leads to ad hoc solutions, replaces one group of children with another group and simply perpetuates the problem. This is why Stop Child Labour is calling for the elimination of all forms of child labour that prevent children from getting an education.
Informal part-time versus regular full-time education
Focusing on the worst forms of child labour can also lead to a two-tier society in which children carrying out the worst forms of child labour are put into regular full-time education while children who continue to work informally are offered part-time (evening) education so that they can combine work and school. As long as it is assumed that children have to work to survive, this seems the highest goal attainable. But the quality of informal education often leaves much to be desired. Moreover, it is questionable how much children can actually learn after a hard day’s work. Ultimately, informal education does not truly help them and they remain disadvantaged in comparison to their more privileged peers who have regular full-time education.
An additional problem is that informal education by private organisations is more likely to be limited to temporary projects. When lenders withdraw, everything stops. Moreover, it takes the responsibility for education out of the government’s hands. Yet ultimately, only governments are capable of developing and providing a sustainable system of education for all children. The often moderate or poor quality of regular full-time education is not a reason to set up an alternative system for working children but a reason to improve the quality of the education system as a whole. This way, all children can benefit. Stop Child Labour believes that focusing on the worst forms of child labour offers no structural improvement. A more effective approach is to tackle all forms of child labour that prevent children from going to school at the community level and – together with the government – to ensure that all children can follow regular daytime classes.
International agreements and conventions
The above vision and promising practices are in fact a logical consequence of agreements made at the international level (UN). Under the “Convention on the Rights of the Child”, which has been ratified by most countries, states are required to provide compulsory and free primary education. In addition, states commit themselves under this convention to implement appropriate sanctions and other measures to ensure that children are protected from economic exploitation, dangerous work and work that hinders their participation in education.
There are two important ILO (International Labour Organisation) Conventions relevant to the fight against child labour. ILO Convention 182 against the Worst Forms of Child Labour prohibits dangerous and unhealthy work for children and adolescents up to 18 years of age. This Convention has now been ratified by 174 countries. ILO Convention 138 on the ‘minimum age for work’ states that the minimum age for work should not be lower than the age at which compulsory education ends, with a lower limit of 15 years of age. Developing countries may opt for a minimum of 14 years. The number of countries that have signed this convention has risen sharply in recent years and now stands at 1618.
As for universal education: 155 countries at the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000 decided that by 2015 all children should have access to primary education. This is one of the generally accepted Millennium Development Goals which government leaders agreed on in 2000 to help rid the world of poverty.
When it comes to children’s rights in Africa it is also important to refer to the African Charter on the Rights of the Child. This charter obliges governments to take measures to protect and advance the rights of children – including the right to education and protection against child labour. It states that governments should protect children against harmful social and cultural practices. This includes all forms of work and practices, such as child marriage, that hinder children’s right to education.
This combined mandate gives rise to the basic premise: ‘Every child has the right to regular full-time education, and no child should carry out work that hinders that education and/or is dangerous’. The agreements and conventions provide clear guidelines for policy and programmes, but unfortunately they are not complied with in many countries. Stop Child Labour continues to refer to these agreements and conventions to call on governments to fulfil their responsibilities.