Child labour is a critical obstacle in the path of children's development and society's sustainable development. Children who must spend the most important stage of their lives striving merely to survive are denied the opportunity to develop to their full potential. Many of the world's 215 million child labourers are denied their fundamental rights, including the right to education. Discovering and learning to one's fullest potential during childhood determines what opportunities will be available not only to the individual but also to the next generations to follow. A fully educated society is assured of breaking the cycle of poverty.
There are many factors which contribute to the existence of child labour: poverty, illiteracy, globalisation, cultural traditions and class disparities. However, the absence of education is one of the primary factors which prevent us from protecting children from all forms of economic exploitation. Education is the vehicle through which people are empowered to improve their quality of life and by which they are protected from all forms of exploitation. In the current unfortunate scenario where the international community has failed to provide education for all, there is an undeniable evidence of continuing, and in some cases increasing, problems of child labour. To eliminate child labour, it is imperative that we establish free, compulsory, equal and quality education for all children.
It is important to understand the role of education in the building of a society. Education gives people the means to participate in the workings of their society, and both facilitates and encourages upward mobility. Education gives people the ability to envision an improved future for themselves and their communities, and provides them with the skills to work towards this improvement.
The Global March applauds ILO 138 Minimum Age Convention in its emphasis on the value of education as a concrete factor in the elimination of child labour. The Convention stipulates that the permissible age of entry into employment "shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years." (C138, 2.3). The critical link between education for all and the elimination of child labour should be similarly recognised and implemented in all discourse and action on either subject.
ILO Convention 138 allows children aged between 13 and 15 to engage in light work, provided that the work is "(a) not likely to be harmful to their health or development; and (b) not such as to prejudice their attendance at school, their participation in vocational orientation or training programmes approved by the competent authority or their capacity to benefit from the instruction received" (C138, 7.1). It should be recognised that child labour in the cases described as acceptable by the Convention can still be harmful if it interferes with a child's ability to participate in his or her education to the fullest possible extent. Attendance at school is not the only factor in ensuring the participation in quality education. The international community must act to ensure that every child has the opportunity to perform at the highest possible level. Every child must be able to learn without undue distractions or duress from work.
The Global March firmly believes that ending the economic exploitation of children can only be possible when free, compulsory and quality education is assured for all children regardless of gender, race, religion, and social or economic status. The elimination of child labour and education for all are two sides of one coin. One cannot be achieved without provision for the other. With governments, international agencies and civil society committing not to let education for all fail due to lack of funds, the elimination of child labour becomes a realistic goal. All stakeholders must take this inseparable relationship into account in their policy making, law enforcement, budgetary measures and developmental aid in order for all children to enjoy their childhood with books, not tools in their tiny hands.
17 January 2007, Sweden
16 –18 December 2008, Oslo