Le Chau Dao/ILO/Flickr. CC (by-nc-nd)
Organised working children and adolescents, experts, academics, and representatives of civil society organisations from four continents met in the city of La Paz, Bolivia, from 16 to 18 October at the Forum on Public Policies with Working Children and Adolescents: Protagonism, Perspectives and Experiences from the Global South'. Their goal was to reflect on practices, approaches and challenges for the protection, defence and promotion of the rights of working children and adolescents. The organisers of the Forum made the following strongly-worded declaration.
We live in a world dominated by powers which devalue, ravage, destroy, enslave, subordinate, and martyr mother earth, and all of the humans who walk her. In the face of this system of brutal exploitation, it is offensive to use the words ‘decent work’ to refer to the horizon of aspiration for millions of people who each day are dispossessed and denigrated, suffering attacks on their dignity. Our economic model fails to provide better opportunities for employment and is used to privilege some to the disadvantage of the majority.
The discourse on child labour expounded by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) creates a smokescreen and obscures the reality and dehumanisation of the neoliberal economic system and the logics of exploitation permitted and encouraged by the state. The new wave of slavery, explicit or implicit, which affects the entire world, is not about the work of millions of children and adolescents, but rather is embedded within the logic of globalised capitalism, which continues to take advantage of the dispossession and impoverishment that it generates, to compel people to submit to starving or accepting dreadful conditions of labour.
The failures of anti-child labour eradication policies and the various practices criminalising poverty, working children and adolescents and their families, implicate not only the ILO but the state and the community of states. Ethically and politically, the current situation demands the opening of space for dialogue around the protection of the rights of working children and adolescent, and this independently of Minimum Age standards.
Without critical thinking and a revision of paradigms, the ILO and allies continue to play with the lives of millions of working children and adolescents, dismissing their requests for policies that protect their rights. ILO representatives, despite having been formally invited to this meeting, once more declined to listen to organised working children. This is yet another insult from an organisation which argues that by 2025 all forms of child labour should be eliminated. Yet, according to the ILO’s own estimates, in 2025 we will still have some 121 million children working. What will we do with them? What will the ILO do? Will it keep denying them any social recognition, and keep condemning them to remain socially invisible?
In the face of such a stubborn and dogmatic posture, we recognise the commitment of the Pluri-national State of Bolivia which, defending its sovereignty, has resisted international pressure to repeal its Code on Children and Adolescents (Law 548), which gives priority to the protection of children and adolescents, rather than to the elimination of their work. There are certainly important challenges in the implementation of this legislation, which include: a) developing the scope and depth of the action of the Ombudsman’s offices (Defensorias) to protect the rights of children and move beyond delivering work permits; b) creating and strengthening spaces for children’s and adolescents’ participation within the Child and Adolescent Committees; and c) strengthening municipalities’ capacity to appropriately implement the Code.
With respect to the ‘IV World Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour’ to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 14 to 16 November, we denounce once more the denial by the ILO to open a space to listen to working children and adolescents, which violates their civil and political rights and particularly their right to participate as enshrined in the 1989 UN Convention on the Right of the Child.
The obvious limitations and failures of current public policies directed at working children and adolescents have already produced sufficient suffering and violation of children’s rights. We argue that it is time to radically amend such policies, integrating working children’s perspectives and experiences in order to build a project for a different future.
The movements of working children and adolescents, and the organisations and persons accompanying them, hereby commit themselves to the struggle of people worldwide to defend dignity, well-being and human rights.