Amit Kumar

On 4th August 2020, Convention 182 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) received ratification from all (187) member states of ILO. Convention 182 deals with the worst forms of child labour. It was adopted in 1999 to eradicate child labour in worst forms with the help of national and international action and co-operation. The Convention requires the member states to take immediate and effective measures to prohibit and eliminate the worst forms of child labour. The definition of a child includes everyone below the age of 18 years. The convention supplements and complements Convention 138 on Minimum Age for Admission to Employment or Work. Convention 138 prescribes the minimum age for employment to be not less than the minimum age of completion of compulsory schooling and set a minimum age of 15 years. It relaxed the age to 14 years in the case of those states whose education system and economy has not sufficiently developed. Apart from labour conventions, even human rights instruments also protect the rights of children. The UN Convention on Rights of Child in Article 32 recognizes the need to protect children from economic exploitation and hazardous activities. Apart from that, the state parties shall, through measures, decide the age, condition, and sanctions in case employment of anyone below the age of 18 years.

Child Labour and Worst Forms of Child Labour

The convention does not define the term ‘child labour.’ It is generally defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It includes work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and/or interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely, or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.

However, the Convention in Article 3 defines the worst forms of child labor. It includes practices such as:-

  1. all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;
  2. the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or pornographic performances;
  3. the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties;
  4. work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.”

While deciding the same, state parties must keep in mind the objective of elimination and prohibition of worst forms of labour. The ILO adopted a Recommendation 190, which suggests specific criteria for determining those works. It includes works that exposed children to sexual or physical abuse or which provides for dangerous machinery or equipment or which requires working in an unhealthy environment. The Convention focused on the worst forms of labour because it was easier to build consensus among the state parties, and the work or the efforts in eliminating the worst forms will affect other forms of child labour.

Causes and Way Forward

The leading causes for child labour include poverty (family poverty and community poverty), family values relating to education, faith, culture, etc., lack of education, international and non-international armed conflicts, social exclusion, economic crisis, political and social transition, etc. These causes are not new; instead, they have persisted through an extended period. The ILO has been involved in the elimination of child labour right from its inception in 1919. With the establishment of the UN in the aftermath of the Second World War, the demand for human rights protection arose. Several human rights instruments require state parties to protect the children and give them special care and protection. ILO, through its Conventions 138 and 182, tries to eliminate and prohibit worst forms of child labour in a time-bound manner. The ILO also established the International Programme on Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC),which functions based on effective designing, monitoring, and evaluation of its activities. It involves consultation with stakeholders, efficient distribution of resources because of continuous monitoring and assessment, and by looking at the impacts of a particular strategy. Almost all the nation-states have recognized the problem of child labour and have taken measures to prohibit and eliminate it.

Despite all these efforts by national governments and international bodies, the desired outcome could not be achieved. In the 100th year of its establishment, the ILO published a book titled “Tackling Child Labour: 100 Years of Action / International Labour Organization.” It highlights that worldwide there are 152 million children in child labour, out of which 73 Million are in hazardous employment, and around 4.3 million are in forced labour. The data suggests that almost half of the child labour are employed in the worst forms of employment. Approximately 27% of the total population in child labor is from the Africa region, and one of the main reasons for it is the prevalence of conflicts. The economic activity that has the highest child labour is agriculture (71%), followed by the service sector (17%) and industry sector (12%).

All UN members adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a universal call to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by the end of 2030. Under target 8.7 the members agreed to “take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.” The ILO is focusing on achieving this target and has recognized that to achieve this target, the state parties and the international bodies need to work expeditiously.

The universal ratification is one step by states towards achieving that target. The Convention once ratified by any state parties, becomes a binding treaty. Every state has a good faith obligation to comply with the terms of the agreements. The universal ratification will also ensure broader collaboration among states in prohibiting and eliminating child labour. There are certain acts like child trafficking or prostitution which involve crossing borders. Universal ratification will help in the investigation, exchange of information, and collaboration process involving such acts.

Several children are employed in several companies that are hazardous, like the leather industry, bangle making industry, ship breaking industry, etc. They are generally used by local contractors to work, and in case of complaints against the companies, they deny their liability. To address this issue, UNHRC has adopted the Guiding Principle on Business and Human rights. It is based on three pillars of state duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and access to remedy. Within the first pillar, it is required from the state that they should clearly state out their policies and expectations from the corporate to ensure their respect for human rights. The state should also advise on methods like human rights due diligence and how to deal with issues relating to children. The second pillar requires the corporate to respect human rights. It will include their activities and also the activities of the enterprises involved in the value chain with it. It also requires corporations to look for that enterprise that does not include activities that violate the human rights of anyone, including children.

The complaint procedure of ILO is state-based. Only a state can complain against another state. The ILO should have thought of a mechanism, similar to that in human rights treaties in which even a victim or even third person on behalf of the victim can make communication in case of violation. In many instances, state-owned corporations are involved in employing children in hazardous activities. In those cases the individual is deprived of access to remedy. Even though the Convention has been universally ratified, but there is a lot to do to eliminate and prohibit the worst forms of child labour. The universal ratification is merely a step towards the long march ahead. As Kailash Satyarthi (Noble Peace Prize Laureate 2014) puts it, “I come across children who are sold and bought like animals and sometimes at a lower price than animals. I come across children who are producing wealth at the cost of their childhood and freedom… Each one of them has a beating heart, and they are looking at us to help. We have to respond.”

Amit Kumar, Research Scholar at Rajiv Gandhi School Of Intellectual Property Law, IIT KGP

Picture Credits: Times of India

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