Defence for Children International (DCI)
Position on Child Labour: A Contribution to Debate and Practice
(1) DCI's mandate with regard to the problem of child labour is firmly based on the
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Article 32 in particular. This Article
recognises the child’s right to protection from economic exploitation and from
performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s
education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral
or social development.
(2) In addition to this Article ensuring children’s protection from economic exploitation,
DCI stresses that the emphasis should be on the rights of children in general and
specifically to education (Arts. 28 and 29), leisure (Art. 31) and protection, thus
providing them the best possible chances for healthy development during childhood.
Through this perspective, DCI considers that not all forms of work are harmful for
the child. For example, work that has an educational content, develops professional
skills, helps to socialise and integrate the child into the society in which he/she lives
can be beneficial, provided this work does not interfere with learning at school and
has no harmful effects on the child’s development.
(3) DCI has been extensively involved in the debate around the definition of child
labour and of harmful/beneficial work. DCI has contributed to the debate as a
Movement, not only on its own, but also in collaboration with other international
organisations. However, there are still some ideological differences within DCI as a
Movement. The majority of the sections believe there is an important difference
between child labour and child work, but a few sections think the distinction is often
blurred and may be dangerous. Moreover, these sections often agree that defining
child work as educational may lead to misperceptions.
(4) However, DCI is united in the view that a child’s rights perspective is necessary to
analyse child labour. The CRC guarantees a series of rights, which ensure the child’s
physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. When the rights to
development are violated, the work the child is performing is harmful.
(5) The full exercise of the child’s rights is considered a fundamental criterion for the
definition of harmful work. DCI also supports the criterion of the minimum age of
employment. If the child is below the minimum age allowed for employment, but is
nevertheless working and his/her rights to development are somehow violated, the
performed activity is harmful and may therefore be considered as child labour.
(6) Such a debate has also questioned whether DCI should be in favour of the child’s
rights to work. Given the differences in national conditions and the various factors
contributing to child labour, some DCI sections have adopted a position defending
the child’s right to work, as long as the activity the child is engaged in is not
violating his/her rights.
(7) DCI recognises that child labour is a multidimensional phenomenon. Its main cause is
Poverty but the economic dimension interacts with several other factors. In
communities where children have traditionally worked alongside family members,
child labour may seem a natural contribution to family survival. When this is
combined with poor access to schools, and/or parental lack of interest or confidence
in education, there is little alternative. In addition, some traditional beliefs relating
to children can make them more likely to be exploited or treated carelessly or
cruelly, e.g. children of stigmatised groups, a culture in favour of practices relating
to child punishment.
(8) DCI supports the strategy of giving priority to the elimination of the most
intolerable forms of child labour. The most intolerable is the exploitation of children
in hazardous working conditions, which endanger the lives of children or impede
their healthy development. Some examples of dangerous conditions are: separation
from their families; physical and sexual abuse; prostitution; bonded or slave labour;
excessively long working hours; heavy loads; underground and under water work as in
the mine and fishing industries; exposure to pesticides and dangerous tools and
equipment as in agriculture; danger in city streets including heavy traffic and
pollution. These are just some examples, as sections may consider additional
categories or may exclude some of the ones stated above on the basis of the
national contexts in which they operate.
(9) In this regard, DCI considers ILO Convention No. 182 (1999) on the Worst Forms of
Labour a very important tool for action and urges State Parties to ratify and swiftly
implement it. However, DCI is also aware that the Convention does not provide an
effective list of the worst forms of child labour and is quite rigid in its categories.
DCI prefers to refer to most intolerable or hazardous forms of work. Given national
differences, forms of intolerable and hazardous work may vary. Some sections also
do not agree with including child soldiers and child sexual exploitation in the list of
worst forms of child labour, being separate phenomena (and having different causes)
from child labour.
(10) For DCI, the rigidity of Convention 182 also stems from the fact that the treaty
does not address the problem within a child’s rights perspective. Although
Convention 182 states to be recalling the Convention on the Rights of the Child, not
much emphasis is placed on the child’s right to development. In particular, DCI feels
education is important in relation to child labour in terms of a right and not only as a
means to combat child labour. The worst forms of labour are also those that do not
allow children to attend school, thus threatening the child’s development.
(11) DCI sees important connections between urgent action to eliminate the worst forms
of child labour and the broader aims of eliminating all forms of exploitation and
promoting the child’s rights to education, health and leisure. It is desirable that all
child labour programs are attentive to both the urgent goals relating to children’s
rights to protection and the broader goals relating children’s rights to holistic care
and development. Within this framework, DCI sees the importance of taking action
on the basis of the principle of the best interest of the child.
(12) DCI's interventions are based on the provisions of the CRC, which promote the idea
of sharing responsibilities within society for the complete and healthy development
of children. Emphasis is placed on the importance of an active civil society, which
strives to eradicate the worst forms of child labour and the protection of all
children involved in work activities. In DCI’s holistic approaches, the State, the
community, NGOs, grassroots, the business sector, religious institutions, parents
and children are stimulated to participate in the debate and in projects.
(13) In agreement with the CRC, Articles 5 and 18, DCI believes the primary
responsibility for the upbringing and development of children lies with the parents
or legal guardians and their basic concern should be the best interest of the child.
State Parties are to provide effective assistance to them through the provision of
institutions, facilities and services.
(14) State Parties have duties to set standards to guarantee children’s rights to
development. Governments have to develop national legislation concerning the work
of children and young people, in accordance with international legal instruments such
as the CRC, the ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) and its accompanying
Recommendation (No. 146) and Convention No. 182 and its accompanying
Recommendation (No. 190). DCI supports the CRC, Article 32. State Parties should
provide for (a) a minimum age or minimum ages for admission to employment; (b)
appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment; and (c)
appropriate penalties and sanctions to ensure the effective enforcement of the
(15) As stated in Article 36 of the CRC, the State Party shall protect the child against
all (other) forms of exploitation prejudicial to any aspects of the child’s welfare. In
particular, DCI stresses State’s intervention in relation to child labour in the area
of education as the latter is a major factor in the child’s development and welfare.
According to Article 28 of the CRC, the State should guarantee that primary
education is made compulsory and free to all through legislation and effective
policies. Education is an essential right of the child and is at the same time an
important factor towards the elimination of the worst forms of child labour.
(16) DCI also sees children as very important actors and the principle of their right to
participate is contained in the CRC. Arts. 12-15 state the children’s rights to form
their own views, to be heard and to freedom of expression and thought. These
articles have also to be applied to working children. They must be involved in the
debate on policies and strategies related to child labour.
Geneva, February 15 2002