Exploitative child labor is a huge problem affecting the world today. No doubt some people think it impossible to end exploitative child labor, and to free the 250 million children who have already fallen prey to it.
There are possible solutions, though. International conventions and special programs, and legislation are at work already, and have demonstrated their effectiveness before in many cases.
There is, however, more that can be done to help end exploitative child labor.
This section talks about current solutions and future solutions for exploitative child labor.
International Labor Conventions and United Nations Conventions:
One step towards eradicating child labor is creating international laws that countries can adopt in order to stem child labor. Fortunately, several laws, or conventions, already exist.
The International Labor Organization, or the ILO for short, has created several conventions that any of its 175 members can adopt. These conventions are:
o Convention 138 – This convention, adopted in 1973, discusses the minimum age for employment for children. The minimum age is defined as 15 in the convention, but several exceptions involving developing (third-world) countries, and light work also exist in the convention.
o And Convention 182 – This convention has been ratified by 132 of the 175 ILO members; 25% of these members ratified the convention just after it was passed in 1999. It discusses the worst forms of child labor and hazardous activities for children. The goal of the convention was to give poor nations a way to combat child labor. It was the first ILO convention that was adopted with the unanimous support of all 425 delegates.
There is also a United Nations legislation that deals with child laborers, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was passed in 1989. This Convention has been ratified by 192, countries to this date; only two have not ratified it yet (the two countries are the United States and Somalia). The Convention discusses all the rights of any child anywhere in the world, and covers much more then just child labor. There are also two optional conventions that accompany the main convention that discuss the participation of children in armed conflicts (child soldiers) and child prostitution.
While international laws help fight exploitative child labor, national laws do their share as well.
In 1992, the United States adopted legislation that banned the import of some child-labor-made items.
This caused the garment industry in the small, Asian country of Bangladesh to fire almost 3/4ths of the child laborers it employed, in fear of the boycott. Unfortunately, this left thousands of children without a job and no means to support themselves (and in some cases, their families). However, the IPEC (a division of the ILO), UNICEF, and other organizations met with garment industry officials and eventually moved the children into schools to be rehabilitated, showing the use of national legislation combined with international organization support.
National Governments and Local Governments:
National governments can play a key role in eliminating child labor.
By passing laws that ban child labor under a certain age, and by ratifying ILO and U.N. conventions, they can help end child labor.
Another responsibility that national and local governments have, however, is actually enforcing these laws. Laws do absolutely no good when not enforced, and unfortunately, child labor laws are not enforced well in many countries. By deciding to enforce these laws, countries can make a positive impact on decreasing child labor.
Sometimes, child labor is caused because of dysfunctional families or because parents do not have steady jobs or enough income. The anthropologist Benedito Rodrigues dos Santos studied the issue of children being on the streets due to family matters. He decided that 80% of these children would not be on the street working as child laborers if governments had a “minimum family income” that would be used to support poor families.
Another possible solution to child labor, supported by some people, is asking actual child laborers what they think the best solutions would be, since it is they who would actually be affected.
In many cases, special programs can greatly help fight child labor.
In Mexico and Brazil, two programs, the Progresa and the Bolsa Escola, (respectively) give parents an incentive to, as Nancy Birdsall (the President of the Center for Global Development) says, “invest in their child’s future.” These programs do this by giving families money if their children attend school regularly instead of working for money. In Brazil, for example, families receive $24, and the program reaches 11.4 million people (a fourth of Brazil’s population). These programs have been extremely effective as a way to combat child labor.
Often, special programs and child labor solutions come from “innovative” local officials. In one case, a worker convinced mothers of child scavengers (who worked in trash dumps) to send their children to school instead. Brazil’s Bolsa Escola program was originally a program limited to the city of Brasilia.
Local officials can often provide insightful solutions to child labor.
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