Education International
Education International

Presentation by EI Deputy General Secretary Jan Eastman at the ILO Plenary Session on Child Labour on 9 June 2006

published 9 June 2006 updated 9 June 2006

Thank you, Chairperson.

Children are people; their rights are human rights; they cannot always or indeed often defend their rights. Thank you to the ILO and its tripartite partners for making the space at this conference to bring us together to build momentum and political will, to commit to actions and to create strategies that will bring an end to child labour. I speak to you today on behalf of Education International, representing 29 million teachers and education workers. EI welcomes the Global Report, its message of hope and call to action. I will not try to address the myriad of issues underlying child labour, or all those which will help to eradicate it. Suffice to say there are many, and many speakers here today. My task is to focus on the key role of education in the fight against child labour and I quote:” perhaps the greatest progress has been made in recognizing the link between child labour elimination and Education for All". However, we will not succeed in achieving EFA if the objective is to eliminate only the worst forms of child labour. The data tells the story: If a steady increase of child labour results from eradicating worst forms, does it mean more children are in school? Unfortunately, no, we cannot congratulate ourselves if we simply allow this problem to move, to hide, to be used when it suits. For example, in Cameroon, only 20% of the children freed from child labour in the agricultural sector have been registered in schools. If we believe children should have at least a basic education, we must commit to the goal of eradicating all forms of child labour. Donor countries and ourselves must not be in too much of a hurry to see good news, results that mask the real situation of not such good news. I concur with Kofi Annan, when he said child labour “has serious consequences that stay with the individual and with society for far longer than the years of childhood”. Victims of child labour face an adulthood of illiteracy and unemployment, and perpetuating poverty. Therefore, we say “Well done” to those Governments which have ratified Conventions 182 and 138 and legislated compulsory education. However, only 51% have plans of action, even fewer at 17% have measures to ensure universal basic education, and an entirely dismal figure of less than 5% provide special attention to girls. We call on governments everywhere to take seriously their responsibilities in policy-making and legislating conditions conducive to the elimination of child labour. We in turn will do our part with the social partners by advocating adequate budgetary allocations at national and global levels to enable unified action on education for all and child labour. Education – a human right, a public good, the breath of life for children must be non-negotiable. In every community, the school is at the centre. Literacy is a gift, for livelihood, for democratic citizenship, for life. What kind of education, I ask? How do we make it a reality? Who pays? Let’s start by agreeing that the right to education is not negotiable. Within that context, quality public education must be free, universally accessible, child friendly, relevant, compulsory, and include secondary as well as primary. Let me elaborate a little, starting with formal education: In a socially just world, education is the responsibility of the State. It is not a charity and it is not a business. Education is simply too important. Stop-gap measures, non-formal education, no matter how well intentioned are in the long term ill-conceived and not sustainable. As the Report so aptly states, ‘The worst forms of education will never be the answer to the worst forms of child labour.” (p.60-265) Education must be of High Quality – Quality education needs first and foremost well qualified teachers, who are licensed to teach. But even they cannot meet the needs of children in run down schools, with large classes and few if any resources. Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions. Attracting and retaining good teachers also means providing resources, in-service training, decent pay and job security, recognizing their ability, and granting the responsibility and autonomy to do the job well. Freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and adequate funding for public education – all are essential prerequisites. Quality education is also the means of attracting and retaining students in school, thus preventing child labour, increasing reintegration of children and reducing drop-out rates. As the Report notes, “Parents will send their children to school if it is of acceptable quality, free, accessible, and particularly if there are incentives such as a midday meal.” (p. 60/265) Quality Public Education also must be:

  • Free and Accessible: Universal access must be guaranteed through public funding of public education under the jurisdiction of the State, without user fees or parental contributions.
  • Compulsory: Efforts to end child labour work best when measures to combat poverty and promote education are linked to increased regulation and enforcement of compulsory education for boys and girls. Furthermore, it must be compulsory to at least the minimum working age. Work and school attendance are not compatible.
  • Schools must be child friendly: All children deserve quality education and qualified teachers, able and available to give them full attention. But children freed from workplaces need to be welcomed in child-friendly schools, they need a special environment - safe schools, lunch programs, meaningful and relevant curricular, and transition programs that rehabilitate, increasing their chance of successful reintegration. Teachers know only too well that tired, hungry, sick children do not learn well.
  • And absolutely non-negotiable is that Education must be For All – Quality education includes the most vulnerable children, and in particular girls. It should reach out to the poor and disadvantaged groups: illiterates, rural, indigenous, migrant communities, those with disabilities, and HIV/AIDS affected children. Discrimination and exclusion do not belong in a quality education system.

And what is our capacity to deliver quality public education to all children? Prevention of child labour, through education, requires a huge commitment by the international community, especially the financial institutions, and governments everywhere. Education, especially in developing countries, is always in need of resources. Investment must be a priority. The resources do exist – it is a matter of political will as to how we choose to use them. Books for rifles, as President Sanchez said yesterday. To further exacerbate the situation, UNESCO tells us that the world will need over 18 million new teachers by the year 2015. Teacher recruitment is an urgent issue, and crash training courses are not the answer. Neither is poaching qualified teachers, especially from the South by the North. What Can We Do? EI is ready to play a lead role – with our members, with others, with you. A multidimensional approach is warranted and EI will continue to support the work of our sisters and brothers in the TU movement, recognized in the Report as a “driving force against CL”. At the international level, EI is pleased to once again undertake joint efforts with IPEC in the fight to eradicate child labour. EI also welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the new Global Task Force, which aims to achieve EFA through the elimination of child labour. And EI continues to look closely in the Campaign for Education with the Global March Against child labour. Within EI, we will build on the long-standing EFAIDS program, which has trained over 150,000 teachers to become fully involved in their national EFA plans and in HIV/AIDS prevention in schools. Government officials (and representatives of the donor communities) have come to appreciate that the involvement of teachers and their unions in shaping national policies contributes to their success. Because teacher unions are rooted in a local environment, they are vital in helping decision-makers create sound development policies. The Global Report warns that the world of education is resistant to taking on what it perceives as additional responsibilities. (259) This is true. Much is expected from schools and teachers these days, and there is enormous pressure to address society’s ills through the formal curriculum. However the initiatives of teachers and their unions are bottom up not top down; and when teacher unions decide to fight child labour through transitional child-friendly learning processes, through drop-out prevention, through community outreach, they commit to the long term. Moreover, Teachers’ daily work with children in classrooms gives them a unique and critical role to play, in the school and in the community, working closely with parents in the best interests of the child. While a Gender theme runs throughout the Report, a synthesis and a more specific focus on gender and child labour, including Gender bias and girls’ education is needed. (see p. 32-134; 48 – 223-226) We should not deceive girls again as we did with the failure of the MDG to bridge the gender gap in education by last year. Our joint responsibility, then, our job, is to work together, as unionists, as employers, as governments, as people, to build the social fabric through demonstrable respect for human rights, EFA, decent work, and the elimination of all forms of child labour. Our children deserve to have a childhood, to play, to learn, to go to school, to be free of mind-deadening, body and soul destroying poverty, the hardships and terrors of unmitigated and forced labour, the fear of abuse, violence, and exploitation. Political will and commitment, strategic action, building on programs that are working, and sheer hard work go a very long way. And the reward is great: dignity and hope for a worthwhile life in a more just and equal world. EI’s message of hope for the future is that we make quality education for all a reality: Let us turn our efforts to really investing in the world’s children – and send them to school! Thank you.