Proposed standards on the worst forms of child labour

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Proposed standards on the worst forms of child labour

At its 86th session in June 1998, the International Labour Conference (ILC) considered the first draft of the texts of the proposed new ILO Convention and Recommendation on the worst forms of child labour. These texts have been revised [3] by the ILO in the light of those discussions, and comments have now been invited from governments (in consultation with trades unions and employers’ associations) on the revised texts, with a view to finalization and adoption at the 87th session of the Conference in Geneva in June 1999.

The question of the use of children as soldiers as one of the worst forms of child labour was not included in the first draft of the Convention, but was raised at the International Labour Conference. Inclusion would automatically mean that the involvement of persons under the age of 18 in the activities specified would be prohibited.[4]

In the light of the discussion at the Conference, the ILO comments:

“As the proposed Convention is drafted, the Office understands that the participation of children in military services, armed forces or in armed conflicts would be contrary to the Convention if the determination is made under Article 4 that the work or activity in which they are engaged is likely to jeopardize their health, safety or morals. It may be assumed that participation in armed conflict would necessarily jeopardize their health, safety or morals. Participation in military activities might also be covered by other provisions of Article 3, for example, if it is forced or compulsory labour. The Office invites comments on the issue, including whether an explicit reference should be made to the subject as constituting one of the worst forms of child labour.”

Child soldiering: a hazardous activity

Article 3 of the Proposed ILO Conventionstates that the “the worst forms of child labour” consist of:
“(a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, forced or compulsory labour, debt bondage and serfdom;
(b) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;
(c) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illegal activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances as defined in the relevant international treaties;
(d) any other type of work or activity which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to jeopardize the health, safety or morals of children”.
In determining the types of hazardous work referred to under Article 3(d) above, paragraph 3 of the Proposed Recommendation states that consideration should be given to:
“(a) work and activities which expose children to physical, emotional or sexual abuse;
(b) work underground, under water, or at dangerous heights;
(c) work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or which involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads;
(d) work in an unhealthy environment which may, for example, expose children to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations damaging to their health;
(e) work under particularly difficult conditions such as work for long hours or during the night or work which does not allow for the possibility of returning home each day”.

Participation in hostilities is an activity which jeopardizes the health and safetyof children as they are liable to be killed, injured and traumatized. Children are intrinsically less cautious and less able to take care of themselves and therefore liable to be killed and injured in greater numbers than adult soldiers. Children are less likely than adults to survive battlefield injuries because of their smaller size and consequent greater likelihood of damage to vital organs or lower resistance to blood loss. The combat-related injuries most frequently suffered by surviving child soldiers are loss of sight, loss of hearing and loss of limbs. Malnutrition or skin and respiratory diseases are common among child soldiers. All of them are exposed to severe psychological consequences of active participation in hostilities. However, too many child soldiers are given drugs and/or alcohol in order to increase their willingness to take risks.

The treatment of child soldiers tends to be such as to be abusive, and mentally and physically hazardous in itself. Even within regular government armed forces children are subjected to ‘toughening-up’ regimes which are often detrimental to their mental and physical well-being, as well as to punishments which can lead to death or permanent physical or mental injuries. Younger children may have deformed backs and shoulders as a result of carrying loads too heavy for them. Child soldiering is usually a full-time occupation, which implies long hours of work and little possibility of returning home. Child soldiers are separated from their homes/families and rarely receive education.

Regarding morals, girl soldiers are usually expected to provide sexual services as well as to fight as combatants, with consequent dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, childbirth or abortion. Boys too are liable to sexual abuse. The physical, mental, emotional and societal impacts, including the possibility of finding work and/or of marriage, continue long after the conclusion of hostilities.

In addition to the impact of soldiering on the individual child, the recruitment of children can have repercussions on other children. If certain children are being used by armed forces or groups, all children, or all children of the same group(s), will tend to come under suspicion. Furthermore, the social cost of using children as soldiers is very high. They are deprived of education or vocational training, and even of learning the family’s traditional means of livelihood. Instead, they learn how to make use of a gun to obtain what is wanted. This often leads to an increase in urban violence as well as to numerous problems and high cost for their reintegration.

It is clear that the recruitment and use of children as soldiers fall within many aspects of the definition of hazardous work as well as violating many of the rights of the child, including the right to life, the prohibition on torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment, the rights to health, education, and to protection from exploitation, including sexual exploitation.

Why include child soldiers specifically?

Under the proposed ILO Convention on the worst forms of child labour, the determination of what constitutes work or activities ‘likely to jeopardize the health, safety or morals of children’ under Article 3(d), is to be decided by national authorities. This is likely to lead to a situation where national practice is divergent, particularly in the case of participation in armed conflict which can easily be overlooked by a ‘competent authority’ geared to more traditional forms of child labour. The use of children in military activities has not previously been included within the scope of child labour. In October 1995, the ILO stated, «The idea of ‘the minimum age for admission to employment or work which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out is likely to jeopardize the health, safety or morals of young persons,’ who must not be less than 18 years (article 3(1) of Convention No. 138 on Minimum Age, 1973), may be applied in corollary to the involvement in armed conflicts, although the latter is considered to be outside the scope of the ILO Conventions on minimum age.» [5]

The initiative at the International Labour Conference to include child soldiering in the Convention is evidence of the increasing international consensus that children have no place in war and should be protected from participation in it. Limiting the provision in the Convention itself to participation in hostilities should enable the broadest support. At the same time, the Recommendation should address ways in which to specifically implement this provision in addition to the general proposals already included. Non-recruitment[6]of children into any armed forces or armed groups is the most effective means of preventing participation in hostilities in practice.

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