Dusty-faced children toiling near the heat of brick kilns, beautifully costumed children dancing and singing sweetly, smiling children walking hand-in-hand with their parents and teachers in a rally for their rights; there were many faces of childhood to be seen at the International Conference For Child Rights Organisers and Campaigners, which took place in New Delhi, India, in late February.
Despite recent progress, more than 200 million child labourers worldwide are still denied their fundamental right to go to school, to learn and play, to experience a childhood. That’s why more than 200 activists and experts from all corners of the globe met to share knowledge and strategise ways to eliminate child labour. The conference was a joint initiative of the global labour movement, led by the Building and Woodworkers’ International, with the aim of raising awareness about children’s rights and the role of trade unions in eradicating child labour. As BWI General Secretary Anita Normark said: “Trade unions have historically led the fight against child labour, and the trade union commitment to end this scourge remains as strong as ever. Through their campaigning for universal, compulsory, good quality education and their action to fight against exploitation and discrimination of any sort in the world of work, unions will continue to be the mainstay of the global struggle to get children out of work and into school. Decent work for every adult is a key foundation stone for ending child labour.” EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen and EI Executive Board member S. Eswaran of the All India Primary Teachers Federation also addressed the delegates. Van Leeuwen affirmed “that children’s rights are not only about child labour, they are also about child abuse, about trafficking, about the health of our children, about their safety, about their education.” Stavri Liko from the teacher union FSASH in Albania and Trudy Kerperien, International Secretary of AOb from The Netherlands, both made presentations on teacher union programmes underway in Albania and Morocco to prevent child labour. In Albania, there are about 40,000 children labouring in the textile and shoe industries, in construction and in agriculture, Liko said. Both Albanian education trade unions, FSASH and SPASH, are seriously working to help reduce the numbers of children dropping out of school. More than 1,500 teachers are involved with 4,200 pupils. As a result, in the last two years more than 1,200 pupils have returned to school or are no longer at risk of dropping out. Kerperien was moved by the visit to a bridging school built in Agra by BWI to help children who are working in brick kilns to make the transition to mainstream schooling. “It’s wonderful to see the children so eager to learn,” she said. “You could see what’s happening both on the education side and the industrial side. It opened my eyes to where we can work together as unions.” Kerperien said she learned once again how the fight against child labour is inextricably tied into the movement for quality public education and the struggle for decent work for adults. If public schools are universally accessible and the education is high quality, more children will enjoy learning and fewer will drop out. And if their parents have decent work, fewer children will be compelled by dire poverty into the work force, she added.