Amsterdam Child Labour Conference
26 February 1997

Issue: Child Participation
From: The Concerned for Working Children, India

Dear collegue,

You may have received information regarding the Amsterdam Child Labour Conferance from various sources. We too have followed those releases with interest. Our observation is that most of those releases do not adequately reflect the salient aspects from the Conferance - especially those pertaining to the participation of the representatives of working children's organisation.

Working child representatives had been allocated 60 minutes to make their presentation in the plenary session. Two of them were panalists in Work Shop 1 which discussed `International and regional cooperation on child labour'. Six of them were participants in the same workshop. In this release (1) we present to you the following:

a. The main points raised by children during their presentation in the plenary session

b. The list of recommendations from the Workshop 1 which clearly recognises organisations of working children as active actors in order to address child labour

c. Excerpts from the speech by Minister Pronk, Minister for Development Co-operation, Netherlands, which highlights the contributions of working children in evolving strategies to address child labour.

d. Excerpts from the speach by Minister Margraeta Winberg, Minister For Labour, Sweden.

e. the Amsterdam Conclusions.

a. The main points raised by children during their presentation in the plenary session

Debate between Representatives of Working Children in Plenary
Wednesday 26 February 1997

Max van den Berg, Director Netherlands Organisation for Development Cooperation (NOVIB)

Ms. B. Lakshmi, Bhima Sangha (Working children's union), India
Mr. Kumar Subba, Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), Nepal
Ms. Sawai Langlah, Child Labour Club, Thailand
Mr. Claude Francois Ouedraogo, West African Movement of Working Children and Youth, Burkino Faso
Ms. Romaine Dieng, West African Movement of Working Children and Youth, Senegal
Ms. Lidja Pereira da Silva, National Movement for Street Boys and Girls, Brazil
Ms. Vidal Ccoa Mamani, National Movement of Organised Working Children and Adolescents, Peru
Ms. Ana Maria Torrentes, Movement of Working Children and Adolescents (NATRAS), Nicaragua

Thesis 1. What should be done for children who are engaged in other (than the most intolerable) forms of child labour?

Thesis 2. What is needed to change the situation of children who work in the most intolerable forms of child labour?

Thesis 3. What are the causes that make children work in situations that are exploitative and hazardous?

The working children's session was opened with a 15 minutes video `Time to Listen' covering the First International Meeting of Working Children was held between 29 November and 9 December 1996 in India. The importance of the video was to show that the children's delegates were representing a large group of children who are organised in various countries and regions. Representatives of these movements had came together for the first time at an international level in India to exchange their experiences as working children and to discuss solutions for the problems they are facing. The film illustrated how working children are able to communicate effectively with each other, conduct their own meetings and arrive at decisions, irrespective of language and cultural barriers. One of the things the children clearly expressed in the video was that they want to be taken seriously and that they want to be part of discussions and debates which concern their lives.

After the film was screened, the children first introduced themselves and their movements briefly and informed the audience about their (former) work experiences. They have been engaged in a variety of work situations. Some of them worked in factories such as sewing, cashew, beedi. Some have worked in the mines, construction and others have mainly experienced work in the streets - their experiences ranging from begging to vending. Two girls have also been working as domestic servants. Presently most of the child delegates combine their work with study.

The question (thesis 1) 'what is needed for children who are working in other forms (other than the most intolerable forms) of child labour' was answered mainly through a presentation by Claude (Burkina Faso) and Lakshmi (India) covering the 10 recommendations the children developed by consensus during the Kundapur meeting. These 10 recommendations include the demand to be respected as organised workers, respect for their proposals and organisations, the right to good education for all, the right to adequate vocational training and social security. They also expressed the need to for the basic causes of their problems especially poverty, to be tackled and for more attention given to to children and communities in the rural areas in order to prevent them from migrating to the cities.

On their last point, `that they are against exploitation at work and in favour of dignified work' they explained that there was no consensus. Brazil, they said has a different standpoint as they feel that children below the age of 14 should not work at all. They added that Brazil perhaps took a different stand based on their realities and they did not wish to impose their stand on Brazil.

The second question (thesis 2) on what should be done for children who are working in the most intolerable forms of child labour was answered by Ana (Nicaragua), Lidja (Brazil) and Sawai (Thailand), who focussed on the following points:

- Governments should respect and reinforce existing laws and conventions, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child;

-Governments should ameliorate control and inspection on all issues concerning child labour and put an end to corruption in their countries;

- integrated government policies are needed to improve the working conditions of working children and adolescents. Organised working children should be consulted in the development of policies that should focus on the following subjects: health service, nutrition, protection, family environment, adequate education and social secutiry;

- popular organisation, including those of working chidlren, should be involved in the fight against the most intolerable forms of child work. The role these organisations play should be acknowledged by the civil society and international institutions;

- international laws should be compulsory on all governments and anyone who has been involved in the sexual violation, sexual violence or sexual exploitation of children anywhere in the world, must be prosecuted.

In relation to thesis 3, on the causes of children engaged in work that is hazardous or harmful, the working children delegates stressed on the importance of tackling the structural causes, which according to them are:

- economic crises, SAP and privatisation measures imposed from outside

- poverty; too much inequality between the rich and the poor

- there are many landless farmers; in our villages there is a lack of schools, lack of health centres and clinics, lack of leisure organisations.

- lack of support to working children from the governments.

- absence of social policies to meet the basic needs, including that of quality education

- too much armed conflicts and violence, children flee to the cities or to other countries

- too little protection for children

Kumar (Nepal) added that the most serious reason for the problems of the working children is the gap that exits between what the governments say and what they do. They do not carry out what they promise to do. Vidal (Peru) underlined this by saying that the poverty and lack of basic services are not the responsibility of the working children and their families. "The experts and international organisations know very well what are the causes of child labour, but they do not know how to change these situations".

Another cause according to Vidal is the abolitionist stand a lot of people are taking which leads to more prostitutes, more children wandering in the streets, more criminals, etc.

The discussion became a debate when Max van den Berg asked the children how they see the role of education with regard to their future.

Romaine (Senegal) explained that they are not opposed to education, but that the reality is that a lot of children are working. "The difference between a child learning at school and a child learning at work is this: a child in school acquires knowledge, a child at work acquires the know how." Both the children who work and children who are in school are aware of their situation. They both realize that they can not depend on their parents in the future. Tomorrow they will have to live a life of their own. "I really do not see a difference between the two."

Vidal added firmly to that: "We work but we also want education, we very much want to study, but we want education that is adapted to our situation. So what's the problem ? The policies of our minister of education are not adequate for us. We want hours that are adapted to our situation, we need food, we need to cloth ourselves". Also according to Lakshmi (India) there is a problem with the quality of the school system. " I think I learned far more skills from the work I have been doing than from school. Schools do not reach working children, there is often discrimination, for example of certain language groups, and the schools are not appropriate for working children.

Lidja (Brazil), on the other hand, stressed the importance of schools and the right for children to live a dignified life in which they can dedicate themselves to school, leisure and the family: " First we have to end the most intolerable forms of child labour, but we have to end with all work that exploits and abuses the children of our world". In midst of this discussion they had to conclude their session as their time was up. Vidal had the last words. "we should not confuse things. We should not confuse health with illness. We can not club them together as if it is all the same."

b. The list of recommendations from the Workshop 1 which clearly recognises organisations of working children as active actors in order to address child labour

Workshop 1
International and regional cooperation
Thursday 27 February 1997

Mr. Jan Pronk, Minister for Development Cooperation of the Netherlands

Ms. Philista Onyango, Regional Chairperson, ANPPCAN, Kenya
Ms. Hamsa, Additional Secretary Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry, India
Ms. L. Laigo, Secretary for Women and Social Welfare, Philippines
Mr. G. Gust, Director IPEC
Ms. Lakshmi, Bhima Sangha, (working children's union), India
Ms. Ana Catin Torrentes, National Movement at Working Children and Adolescents (Natras), Nicaragua


1. International cooperation should be directed to the ratification of all ILO conventions concerned.

2. In international and bilateral cooperation, priority should be given to the improvement of the life of children, including working children.

3. Information about child labour should be improved by:

- expanding data collection by the ILO, gender specific
- enchancing international support for research, both academic and action oriented
- guaranteeing that information on child labour will be exchanged internationally, for instance by supporting existing journals, or establishing new ones and/or opening a website on child labour on Internet

4. Awareness building in the media on child labour should be supported in effective language that is sufficiently sensitive and will be understood by children. In awareness building and information programmes special attention should be given to the position of girls.

5. Financial and/or technical support should be provided to groups in countries that are active in the field of child labour, including trade unions, employer's organizations, women's groups and human rights groups. Special attention should be given to support working children's organisations.

6. To provide international financial and technical support for governments who want to carry out programmes based on international conventions regarding child labour.

7. To support the development of national mechanisms for surveilliance and monitoring of activities in the field of child labour. This should include all parties involved: governments, employers, trade unions, working children's organisations and NGOs.

An international mechanism has to be established that could assist the national mechanisms. It could help monitoring the compliance with international conventions. It could benefit from the expertice of UN organisations, including UNICEF and the CRC. It could also benefit from the participation of internation employer's and worker's organisations, international NGOs and representatives of working children. The ILO could function as a lead agency.

8. To improve access to and functioning of mechanisms to protect the safety and human rights of persons active in the defence of working children's rights.

9. To give priority to poverty alleviation in general in international programmes of development cooperation, to prevent intolerable forms of child labour.b. The list of recommendations from the Workshop 1 which clearly recognises organisations of working children as active actors in order to address child labour

c. Excerpts from the speech by Minister Pronk, Minister for Development Co-operation, Netherlands, which highlights the contributions of working children in evolving strategies to address child labour.

"We should not discuss child labour without involving the children themselves in the decision-making processes. An adult sitting behind a desk cannot for a moment imagine what it is like to be an undernourished, overworked child, stretched beyond the limits of its physical strength. We need inside information and this can only be gained by involving the children themselves. Children are, moreover, perfectly capable of assessing their own situation and coming up with solutions. That is why we are delighted to have working children from Asia, Africa and Latin America in our midst to share with us their views on child labour. I should now like to extend an especially warm welcome to Lakshmi, Kumar, Sawai, Claude Francois, Romaine, Lidja, Vidal and Ana Maria".

d. Excerpts from the speech by Minister Margraeta Winberg, Minister For Labour, Sweden.

"Last, but not least, I want to express my appreciation at seeing working children representatives participating in this conference. This day and age, it would not make sense to start discussing a convention to protect working children without listening to their voices and thier concerns. The children cannot provide the solutions, but they can help the grown-ups in designing them appropriately.

1. The Best Interest of the Child

"The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, stresses that all actions affecting children should place priority on what is in the best interest of the children involved. This is not always easy to determine, but experience clearly demonstrates that some actions taken against child work actually can harm the very children they are intended to hlep. We need to be far more sensitive to what actually works for children and more sophisticated in planning our actions.

"The participation of working children in this conference is a step towards dealing with the question of how to determine the child's best interests, and it is worth imitating.

"And I consider organizing a national awareness-raising preparatory meeting in Stockholm before the Conference on child labour in Norway later this year. To that meeting, I intend to invite working children, accompanied by people from NGO's, soliciting their ideas on what might be good or bad for working children".

e. the Amsterdam Conclusions.



"The fight against child labour requires a firm expression of political will at the highest level and the designation of a responsibile national authority. Concerted action is required at all levels by governments, employers' and workers' organisations, NGOs, representatives of working children and their families and other members of civil society united in a coherent multi- disciplinary programme. This programme should focus on key areas such as education, enactment and enforcement of child labour legislation as well as poverty alleviation. The programme should involve the development and implementation of policies targeted at".

"We call on all parties involved in concerted action to participate in the preparation of the new international standards on the elimination of the most intolerable forms of child labour, scheduled for adoption in 1999 by the International Labour Conference and, by means of speedy ratification and effective application, ensure that these standards will have a decisive influence on law and practice throughout the world".

If you wish to receive the entire text of the above mentioned documents, please get back to us. We will soon be mailing to you some of the significants points raised regarding the strategies to address child labour by different participants during the conference. Also one of our collegues from the Concerned for Working Children accompanied Lakshmi from Bhima Sangha,India. She will send out a report of the process which the child delegates went through in order to participate effectively in this meeting.

We look forward eagerly to your responses.

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