Beyond Trafficking and Slavery

Open letter from working children to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

After being excluded from the IV Global Conference on the Eradication of Child Labour, working children and adolescents complain to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Español

The Secretariat
14 November 2017


Dang Ke Duc/ILO/Flickr. CC (by-nc-nd)

In exercise of our right to have an opinion (Article 12, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child [CRC])1, we, the working children and adolescents of the Latin American and Caribbean Movement, send you this written complaint. We hope to be heard and that our opinions will duly be taken into account.

Seeking to exercise our rights as per Article 12 of the CRC, we asked the organisers to let us participate in the IV World Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from November 14 to 16 of this year. Not only was this right to participate denied us, but it was denied to anyone under 18 years of age, ‘for security reasons’.

Without fully understanding the reasons for this violation of our rights, we ask ourselves: Do they want to protect us or do they want to protect themselves against us? Could it be that they do not want to hear what we have to say? We think it is serious that the people they will be talking about will be prohibited from engaging in their conversations. In addition to the violation of Article 12, Article 2 is also being violated2, because we cannot avoid feeling discriminated against: we are prevented from entering purely and exclusively because of our age.

Having been forbidden to speak at this conference, we send you, dear members of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, what we would have wanted to say there, trusting that you will value and take into account our words.

We think it is serious that the people they will be talking about will be prohibited from engaging in their conversations.

With the establishment of minimum ages for admission to ‘employment or work’, the International Labor Organisation (ILO) violates Article 323 of the CRC, which does not generally prohibit our work, but establishes the right to be protected against economic exploitation in all activities that may be harmful to our education, health, or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. That we have the right to be protected against economic activities which may harm us means that there are economic activities which are not equal to exploitation. However, the ILO, in violation of this right of ours, globally imposes the prohibition of any form of work for the simple reason of our not being of ‘minimum age’.

We believe that, regardless of our age, it is necessary to make a precise distinction between economic exploitation and work as an activity that produces goods and services vital for us, our families and society. We struggle with our organisations against any form of exploitation, violence or abuse, but we believe that general prohibitions are not designed or able to protect us from all these evils. Instead, we hope to be supported by positive measures in our struggle and in our efforts to help our families in addition to studying and playing.

ILO Convention 138, which sets the minimum age for admission to any job, 1) renders illegal the many working children and adolescents that exist in the world; 2) leads states to take repressive, persecutory and discriminatory measures against us; and 3) ‘illegalises’ us, since the drive to eradicate us means that no government institution exists to protect us. We can provide you many examples of the negative and damaging consequences for our lives and those of our families.

The way in which the ILO defines child labour does not seem appropriate, since it equates exploitation with work, not allowing a differentiated analysis between the mistreatment towards us and the work we do to contribute to the sustenance of our families. Thus, Articles 64 and 275 of the CRC are also violated. Many of us belong to indigenous communities in the territories of the countries of Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, among others. In our communities, working from a young age is the way through which we bond with our elders and learn to stand on our own. The work we do is nothing like employment in exploitative conditions: these are community economic activities. The prohibition that the ILO imposes on us degrades our right (in particular the rights of children and adolescents of indigenous origin) to have our own cultural life.6

It is necessary to make a precise distinction between economic exploitation and work as an activity that produces goods and services vital for us.

If, according to the judgment of the child or adolescent, working with our parents or guardians is a better way for us to progress than having our parents or guardians sacrifice themselves for us but without_ _our help, then is prohibiting us from doing so not acting against our best interests?7 Does it not prevent us from enacting our citizenship and human commitment?

Is it not an injustice that we have the right to express our opinion, to be heard and to participate in the decisions that affect us, but that we cannot choose if we want to work? That we cannot make our opinions known to the institutions that are supposed to work to guarantee compliance with the CRC? And that we are not taken into account in the design of the public policies with which our rights will be protected and promoted?

We are confident that the committee will hear our complaint. Our trust in humanity leads us to believe that you will hear us, you will consider us valid interlocutors, you will take our words and feelings seriously.

We wait carefully for your answer, dreaming that it will allow us to advance towards horizons of dignity.


  1. The right to be heard and to take our opinions duly into account. ↩︎
  2. The right not to be discriminated against. ↩︎
  3. The right to be protected against economic exploitation. ↩︎
  4. The intrinsic right to life and guarantee of survival and development to the maximum extent possible. ↩︎
  5. The right to an adequate standard of living for our physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. ↩︎
  6. Article 30 CRC. ↩︎
  7. Article 3 CRC. ↩︎
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