Twenty-eight students and four teachers from the public school Stedelijk Gymnasium Nijmenen, Netherlands, have been invited by EI to learn more about trade union work on child labour worldwide and present a resolution to the European Commission.
The 12-14 year old students were welcomed by EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, who highlighted that both EI and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the main international trade union organisation, combat poverty, promote human rights and work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially Education for All EFA, which is put at risk by child labour.
EI Coordinator Jefferson Pessi stated that these students were privileged to be able go to school, official UNESCO statistics indicating that 100 million 5-14 year old children are out of school far and wide, 60% of them working in agriculture.
He indicated that the most child labourers, 97 million, are exploited in Asia-Pacific, 60 million in Sub-Saharan Africa and 10 million Latin America and Caribbean.
Main reasons to child labour: poverty and war and conflict – there are 500,000 child soldiers officially. There are 180 million child labourers officially, 215 million unofficially.
Mr. Pessi noted that his country, Brazil, counts 2,2 million children involved in child labour, most of them working in the garbage industry, or else as shoe shine boys. The national Government’s solution has been to provide free education by funding the ‘Bolsa familia’ Programme, from which 12 million families have benefited so far. Families register to the programme and receive a monthly salary to send children to school and get them vaccinated.
EI Senior Coordinator Dennis Sinyolo from Zimbabwe also did a well-received presentation. He stressed the importance of poverty, HIV and AIDS pandemic and forced labour in pushing children into child labour. He detailed the six different child labour types his country suffers from: farm work; street vending; car cleaning and guarding; domestic/nursing work; street begging; and gold panning.
He deeply regretted the current Governments’ trend globally to cut development cooperation funding. He asked children to organise activities their schools and communities and think about ways to lobby their government to increase its development cooperation aid in favour of education.
Mr. Sinyolo finished by reading aloud a moving poem by two Zimbabwean child labourers and by declaring that he himself had been a child labourer and overcome numerous obstacles to get education, become a teacher unionist and finally come to Brussels to work for EI.
EI Deputy General Secretary Jan Eastman afterwards emphasised that girls are more likely than boys not to attend a school, because they are too often expected to do domestic work, even within their own families.
She emphasised that “tired, hungry, stressed-out children cannot learn and see their cognitive faculties affected.”
“We, at EI, have a responsibility. We believe that education for all has to be free, for all and provided by quality teachers in good facilities. All children must be given the chance to finish secondary education, go to university and not be trapped in dead-end jobs.”
She then mentioned the International Day Against Child Labour – 12 June – EI and its affiliates are involved in. EI member organisations, like the Dutch union AOb, get involved every year in rallies, meetings with national, regional or local authorities, or public awareness-raising campaigns on this occasion. EI also published publications on child labour jointly with the International Labour Organisation.
She went on to say that EI will participate in a high-level meeting on child labour next week at the European Parliament (EP), where it will be joined by representatives of the EP, the European Commission and employers and workers’ unions. Participants will have the opportunity to hold debate around the creation of a European Child Labour Hotline.
Ms. Eastman indicated that public pressure is a solution,” and “employers must give better paid, decent work to parents, with decent salaries and conditions, and not hire children.”
ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow added that “it should be simple: the rule of law should apply” and established a link between decent work and child labour.
She mentioned that international legal instruments, such as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights or ILO conventions, need to be implemented nationally. These documents cover many rights like freedom of association, collective bargaining, right to be free of forced labour, and right to be free of child labour.
Explaining that “we cannot be soft about the situation if we want to eradicate child labour,” even if get children out of work and to school means on many occasion risking leading families to poverty, she agreed that solutions like the Brazilian one, allowing families to send children to school without harsh consequences, must be brought forwards.
Calling on “children like you to champion that cause,” she also stated that “social protection, housing, sanitation and Education for All cost less money than the amount the world rose after the economic crisis.”
Ms. Burrow finally presented the ITUC young activists’ campaign “Play fair.”
The meeting ended with students unanimously adopting a resolution on child labour, requesting “the European Union steps up its action to achieve the Millennium Development Goal, Education for All, and to help poor countries improve their public school systems.” They later presented this resolution to the European Commission.
Students and teachers reviewed the meeting very positively.
Sport teacher Riske Jensen said she had been impressed by her students sometimes following conversations in English even if Dutch translation was available, showing real interest for the child labour issue and taking active part in discussions. She expects feedback from them during the next classes, for example on the Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s role in combating child labour.
Thirteen year old Tim remarked that he “found the discussions interesting, I have learnt a lot of things I didn’t know. I was impressed by the guy from Zimbabwe, who told a real life story.”
Frida, 13 year-old, agreed with him, highlighting that “these were clear stories, especially on Zimbabwe. They made us realise that there are children really working and how bad that is. We all should help them get a better future.”