12 June 2009
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE TO MARK WORLD DAY, LAUNCH BOOK ON CHILD LABOUR


An absence of immediate action to address child labour worldwide would not only result in a global failure to do better in terms of combating that evil, but in a further deterioration of the situation, as the current economic crisis continued to have an adverse effect on developing countries, Piet de Klerk, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Netherlands, said at Headquarters today.


Speaking at press conference on the occasion of the World Day against Child Labour, he said that, with some 218 million children -– one sixth of the world total -- involved in child labour, the international community had come together against the practice.  Though outlawed by International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 182, questions persisted as to how child labour could be addressed in a more effective manner.


“We stand for an ambitious, integrated, comprehensive approach to combating child labour that encompasses all instruments and opportunities available,” said Mr. de Klerk, who was accompanied by Peter de Ruiter, author of A World for Children: Growing up Without Child Labour; Oscar Pekelder, Executive Director of World Vision, Netherlands; and Paul Mikov, Director of the World Vision New York branch.


He went on to say that his country in particular had “fought quite a battle” to place child labour high on the priority list of the European Union, approaching the issue from the viewpoint of poverty reduction, investment in education and human rights, and emphasizing the importance of corporate social responsibility in relation to child labour.  The Netherlands had made it a topic of bilateral dialogue in trade relations and development cooperation, seeking to promote “child-labour-free” trade.


One of the difficult questions in that regard concerned possible restrictive trade measures against countries that used child labour, he continued.  Within the framework of the European Union, the Netherlands was a strong advocate of considering a ban on the importation of goods manufactured with the use of the worst forms of child labour.  Among other things, the country was planning to convene, jointly with ILO, an international conference on child labour in May 2010.


Mr. de Ruiter presented A World for Children: Growing up without Child Labour, saying that the photo book sought to raise awareness of the incidence of child labour.  It not only documented the practice, but also showed where it had originated and how it was sustained by those who profited from it.  It also offered solutions promoting action against child labour.  Work on the book had taken the author to nine countries across three continents, but in fact, child labour existed in his own country, the Netherlands, and across Europe, as well.


Many thought of child labour as a necessary evil that helped families put food on the table, he said, stressing, however, that it was created by people and could be ended by people.  The vicious cycle could be ended by promoting good wages, free schooling and teachers’ education.  Hopefully the book would contribute to the cause of creating a world for children, who deserved an opportunity to live their lives in all their fullness.  The global economic crisis made the subject particularly relevant, because the world now ran the risk of losing more children to the practice.


“We have to act now,” said Mr. Pekelder, stressing the importance of activism at all levels.  In today’s changing landscape, everybody, including multilateral organizations, non-governmental organizations, Governments, corporations and individuals, must be active in that regard.


Stressing the timeliness of the book, he said that, because of the economic and financial crisis, people were becoming more aware of the need to treat the world differently.  “In this time -- can you imagine -- the sales of fair trade products are rising,” he said.  The book demonstrated the importance of private initiative in fighting child labour.  Just a few weeks after its 2008 release in the Netherlands, the Dutch Parliament had passed an amendment to eradicate child labour, while denying subsidies and grants to those who produced goods made by children.


Mr. Mikov said World Vision had programmes to mitigate child labour in 98 countries, but was concerned about a recent increase in the number of working and vulnerable children entering mitigation programmes, especially in export-dependent economies, such as India, Cambodia and Thailand.  That trend seemed to suggest that the global economic downturn was increasing the level of vulnerability among children around the world.  Governments, intergovernmental organizations, corporate entities and non-governmental organizations should take steps to eradiate all forms of child labour, especially the most dangerous and egregious ones.


He also stressed the need for immediate and appropriate action to ensure that economic stimulus packages took child labour into account.  “Unless such action is taken, not only will we fail to do better in terms of child labour, but very likely the situation will deteriorate significantly more as developing countries continue to be adversely affected much more than developed countries in this very difficult time.”


Children must be in school, where they must learn and play rather than work during the most formative years of their lives, he said.  It was also important to continue emphasizing the importance of strengthening policies on child labour, implementing existing good policies and laws and introducing new measures that would “take care of new realities in this arena”.  It was also important to ensure that adults were able to sustain their families, to support research in order better to understand the dynamics of the issue, and to ensure the long-term sustainability of efforts to end child labour.


Responding to questions, Mr. de Klerk said both incentives and restrictive measures could be applied to eliminate child labour.  On the positive side was the use of fair trade labels to guarantee that no child labour had been used to manufacture a particular product.  In 2008, the European Council of Ministers had requested the European Commission to analyse the impact of positive incentives on the sale of goods produced without the use of child labour and to report on the possibility of additional measures, including trade-related ones, on goods made using the worst forms of child labour.  That report was expected in “a couple of months”, and would form the basis for future decision-making on the matter.


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For information media • not an official record