United Nations


General Assembly

Distr. GENERAL  

14 October 1996



General Assembly
Fifty-first session
Agenda item 106


                         Exploitation of child labour

                        Report by the Secretary-General


                                                              Paragraphs Page

 I.   INTRODUCTION ........................................     1 - 3      2

II.   BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE PHENOMENON ....................     4 - 7      2

III.  INITIATIVES AND PROGRAMMES ..........................     8 - 27     3

      A. International human rights instruments ..........      8 - 14     3

      B. International human rights mechanisms ...........     15 - 27     5

      INTERNATIONAL LEVELS ................................    28 - 41     9

      A. Recommendations at the national level ...........     28 - 36     9

      B. Recommendations at the international level ......     37 - 41    10

                               I.  INTRODUCTION

1.   At its fiftieth session, the General Assembly adopted resolution
50/153 of 21 December 1995 on the rights of the child, in which, inter
alia, it called upon Governments to take legislative, administrative,
social and educational measures to ensure the protection of children
from economic exploitation, in particular the protection from
performing any work that was likely to be hazardous or to interfere
with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or
physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.  The
Assembly also urged Governments to take all necessary measures to
eliminate all extreme forms of child labour, such as forced labour,
bonded labour and other forms of slavery.    

2.   In paragraph 22 of the same resolution, the General Assembly
requested the Secretary-General, in cooperation with the International
Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
and other relevant actors, to report on current initiatives and
programmes of the United Nations and its affiliated agencies
addressing the exploitation of child labour and on how to improve
cooperation at the national and international levels in this field.

3.   The present report is submitted in pursuance of the above request
of the General Assembly.  The report begins with a brief overview of
the phenomenon of the exploitation of child labour followed by a
review, in section III, of current international initiatives and
programmes aimed at combating the exploitation of child labour. 
Section IV presents proposals on how to improve cooperation in order
to better combat the exploitation of child labour at the national and
international levels are elaborated.  


4.   According to the International Labour Organization, the extent of
child labour in figures is hard to gauge, since the necessary
statistics are scarcely available anywhere.  However, surveys carried
out in several countries and available statistics indicate that there
are tens or even hundreds of millions of children working today
throughout the world.  The lack of reliable and comparable statistical
data also makes it impossible to assess the trend of child labour over
time.  According to some experts, the proportion of working children
has increased in various parts of the world in the last 15 years owing
to factors encouraging the supply of child labour.

5.   Child labour is a problem not only in terms and proportion of
children affected, but also, and more importantly, in terms of the
risks and abuse to which those children are exposed at work.  First,
many children are put to work at a very early age, often as young as
they are 5 or 6 years.  Secondly, work is often a permanent activity,
takes up long hours each day and is therefore difficult to reconcile
with school attendance.  While it is true that many children who work
continue to attend school, it is just as true that many others, 30 to
50 per cent of the working children, depending on the country, stop
going to school altogether.  Thirdly, many children work under
conditions that seriously impair their dignity and physical and/or
emotional development.  In recent years, the international and
national communities have regularly denounced the bonded labour to
which millions of children are subject, the trafficking in children
from rural areas or neighbouring countries for employment or
prostitution in cities and the severe ill-treatment of street

6.   The World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of
Children, held at Stockholm from 27 to 31 August 1996, firmly
condemned the use and abuse of children, who are commonly treated as a
cheap labour force and as commercial objects. 

7.   It should be noted that the United Nations and the relevant
specialized agencies as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
have devoted considerable time and energy in combating all forms of
exploitation of children.  

                       III.  INITIATIVES AND PROGRAMMES

                  A.  International human rights instruments

                   1.  Convention on the Rights of the Child

8.   The coming into force of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
constitutes an important development in the struggle against child
labour through the formal legal commitment undertaken by the
quasi-totality of the world community (178 States) to protect and
promote the rights of the child.  The Convention currently represents
the most comprehensive international instrument for the promotion and
protection of the rights of the child which, if effectively
implemented, can significantly contribute to the elimination of child

9.   Among the rights spelled out in the Convention, there is a
specific provision in article 32 by which States parties recognize and
guarantee, through legislative, administrative, social and educational
measures, the right of the child to be protected from economic
exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be
hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful
to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social

               2.  Other international human rights instruments

10.  In implementing the articles of the Convention on the Rights of
the Child, including the provisions of its article 32, due regard
should be given to the relevant provisions of other international
instruments.  A number of measures are specifically spelled out in
article 32, such as the provision of a minimum age for admission to
employment, of appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of
employment, and of penalties and sanctions to ensure effective
enforcement.  Various standards have been adopted by the ILO in these
areas, including in particular the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No.
29), which prohibits forced labour in most of its forms, and the
Minimum Age Convention 1973 (No. 138), designed to prevent the
exploitation of child labour, which sets the minimum age for work at
not less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and in any
case not less than 15 years (14 years for developing countries) and
for work likely to harm health, safety or morals, at no less than 18

11.  Mention should also be made of the provisions of article 10,
paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, calling for the protection of children from economic
and sexual exploitation, and making punishable by law children's
employment in work harmful to their morals or health or dangerous to
life or likely to hamper their development.  Equally, article 8 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prescribes the
prohibition of slavery and the slave trade in all their forms as well
as recognizing the right of everyone not to be held in servitude. 

12.  The Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and
of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, adopted in 1949,
requires States parties to introduce measures designed to prevent
prostitution and rehabilitate prostitutes and to check the traffic in
persons for the purpose of prostitution.  The 1956 Supplementary
Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and
Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery, which has broadened the
definition of slavery initially provided in the 1926 Slavery
Convention drawn up by the League of Nations, also calls upon States
parties to take all practicable and necessary legislative and other
measures to bring about, inter alia, the abolition of institutions and
practices whereby a child is delivered to another person with a view
to the exploitation of the child or his/her labour.

                     3.  World Conference on Human Rights

13.  The Vienna Declaration and Plan of Action (1993) also contains a
number of references to issues relating to children's rights
particularly as regards action to be taken to combat exploitative
child labour, including the following:  

         "The World Conference on Human Rights urges all States, with
     the support of international cooperation, to address the acute
     problem of children under especially difficult circumstances. 
     Exploitation and abuse of children should be actively combated,
     including by addressing their root causes.  Effective measures are
     required against ... harmful child labour ..."

         "The World Conference on Human Rights recommends that matters
     relating to human rights and the situation of children be
     regularly reviewed and monitored by all relevant organs and
     mechanisms of the United Nations system and by the supervisory
     bodies of the specialized agencies in accordance with their

         "The World Conference urges all nations to undertake measures
     to the maximum extent of their available resources, with the
     support of international cooperation ...  The Conference calls on
     States to integrate the Convention on the Rights of the Child into
     their national action plans.  By means of these national action
     plans and through international efforts, particular priority
     should be placed ... on providing access to ... basic
     education". 1/  

14.  Within the context of the satellite meetings organized prior to
the World Conference on Human Rights, a regional seminar on the
subject of children in bondage was held at Islamabad, Pakistan, from
23 to 26 November 1992.  At the meeting, which was organized by the
ILO in collaboration with the Centre for Human Rights, a programme of
action against child bondage was adopted.  The programme of action
endeavoured to provide an overview of the problem of child bondage as
well as the measures required to combat this basic violation of
children rights.  A number of suggestions were formulated as regards a
framework for policy measures and action to be taken in the field of
legislation and its enforcement.  The programme also outlined the
educational, training and rehabilitation activities, community
mobilization and information campaigns which should be undertaken.  It
was suggested that this regional programme of action should be
followed by the development of national programmes of action. 

                   B.  International human rights mechanisms

                     1.  International Labour Organization

15.  A number of the international instruments adopted under the
auspices of the International Labour Organization have established
monitoring bodies to scrutinize the situation at the national level
and to seek preventive and remedial measures against exploitative
child labour.  The ILO has also created several mechanisms to
supervise compliance of its various conventions and to consider
complaints filed by employer or worker organizations. 

16.  The ILO's main instrument on child labour today is the Minimum Age
Convention, 1973 (No. 138), and the adoption of legislation fixing a
minimum age below which children should not be allowed to engage in an
economic activity has been one of the fundamental elements of a
coherent national strategy against child labour.  The ILO finds it
regrettable that the convention has been ratified only by 49
countries, 21 of which are developing countries, and that these do not
include any in Asia.  This situation is considered all the more
serious in view of the fact that the Copenhagen Declaration adopted by
the World Summit for Social Development in March 1995 includes
Convention No. 138 in the group of the ILO conventions judged
essential for the defence of workers' basic rights and interests.  The
Office for Discussion at the Informal Tripartite Meeting at the
Ministerial Level on 12 June 1996 (the Office) has appealed to those
member States that have not done so to ratify this instrument.  At the
same time, it has requested the Governing Body to include an item on
child labour in the agenda of the 1998 session of the International
Labour Conference with a view to adopting new international standards
on child labour.  The objective is to strengthen the arsenal of ILO
standards with a binding instrument geared to banning the most
intolerable forms of child labour.  The Office is of the view that a
new convention of this kind would have a good chance of being ratified
by a very large number of both industrialized and developing
countries; it would also strengthen the ILO's authority in the
worldwide fight against child labour and provide clear guidelines for
technical cooperation.

17.  The ILO has other means of assisting its member States in the
field of child labour.  One of them is to collect and disseminate
information in a systematic manner on what is being done to reduce the
extent of child labour or to improve the conditions in which children
work.  Another means is action-oriented research.  The ILO felt it
essential to strengthen the complementarity between research and
technical cooperation by regularly providing ideas required for the
technical cooperation projects under its International Programme on
the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC).

18.  The role of technical cooperation is to bring national law and
practice more in line with the models proposed by international labour
standards.  In the case of child labour, the proposed model is its
total and effective abolition.  Consequently, direct assistance
provided by the ILO to member States must ensure that a real step is
taken towards the abolition of child labour and, especially, that its
most intolerable forms are not tolerated any longer.  The pragmatic
approach adopted by IPEC consists of going straight to essentials and
endeavouring to put an end to forms of child labour that are
manifestly harmful to them.  This programme, which became operational
in 1992 thanks to a generous donation from the Government of Germany,
is the new framework set up by the ILO to stimulate and organize
collaboration among its member States in the fight against child
labour.  Eight additional donors have joined the programme; from only
six in 1992-1993, a total of more than 20 countries benefit from its
assistance in 1996-1997; and promising results have already been

                        2.  Commission on Human Rights

19.  Upon the recommendation of the Working Group on Contemporary Forms
of Slavery, the Commission on Human Rights in 1990 appointed a Special
Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child
Pornography, who has contributed and continues to contribute, through
reports to the Commission on Human Rights and field missions to
various countries, to an increased awareness about problems
concerning, inter alia, the exploitation of child labour.

20.  After their elaboration by the Working Group on Contemporary Forms
of Slavery, the Commission on Human Rights adopted two programmes of
action respectively in 1992 and 1993 on the sale of children, child
prostitution and child pornography and for the elimination of the
exploitation of child labour.  These programmes constitute detailed
sets of measures indicating the various approaches that Governments,
United Nations bodies, specialized agencies and other competent bodies
including NGOs should take to implement the rights of the child in
relation to the sale or sexual exploitation of children or child
labour.  The programmes envisage a wide range of activities in the
fields of information and awareness-raising, education and training,
social action and legislation.  They also call for cooperation at the
local, national and international levels. 

3.  Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection
    of Minorities                                               

(a)  Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery

21.  The Slavery Conventions are monitored through the activities of
the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery established by the
Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of
Minorities.  The Working Group meets every year in Geneva to receive
reports on legal standards, violations and remedial action from
Governments, United Nations bodies, specialized agencies and other
competent bodies.  As stated above, the Working Group has elaborated
the two programmes of action on the sale of children, child
prostitution and child pornography; and for the elimination of the
exploitation of child labour. 

22.  In accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 1993/79
of 10 March 1993, by which the Commission adopted the Programme of
Action for the Elimination of the Exploitation of Child Labour, and in
particular with its paragraph 7 in which the Commission requested all
States periodically to report to the Subcommission on measures adopted
to implement the Programme of Action and on the effectiveness of such
measures, the Subcommission has established, through the Working
Group, a follow-up of the implementation of the programmes of action
by States.  The first report of the Subcommission was submitted in
1994 and contained the replies of 24 States.  The second report was
submitted at the forty-seventh session of the Subcommission and
contained replies of 5 States. 

23.  The Working Group considers these reports under its agenda item
entitled "Review of information received regarding the implementation
of the conventions and programmes of action".  It has noted that,
although almost all States have enacted legislation aimed at combating
the exploitation of child labour the problem lay in the follow-up of
the implementation of such laws.  The Working Group had therefore,
inter alia, encouraged States to make efforts in implementing and
following up the implementation of those laws.  

24.  The Working Group, being very much concerned at the exploitation
of child labour, has included two closely-related items in its agenda
on child labour and bonded labour.  The Working Group pays particular
attention to all information on the issues and makes its
recommendations to the Subcommission and to the Commission on Human
Rights.  During the last few years, it has established a very fruitful
dialogue with some of the States which face the problematic situations
despite their legislative efforts. 

                   4.  Committee on the Rights of the Child

25.  The Committee on the Rights of the Child, through its monitoring
of the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,
has a unique role to play as a focal point within United Nations
system-wide action.  Through its reporting system, the Convention
ensures a periodic assessment and evaluation of progress achieved by
States parties in the implementation of the Convention.  It provides
the opportunity for identifying, together with other relevant United
Nations organs and agencies and other competent bodies, gaps and
shortcomings in the realization of the rights of the child and for
mobilizing international cooperation in order to provide technical
advice or assistance when needed.  The consideration of a number of
initial reports submitted by Governments clearly illustrated the wide
scope of child labour-related problems and justified the decision by
the Committee to devote one day of general discussion, the purpose of
which is to enhance a deeper understanding of the Convention, to the
topic of the economic exploitation of children, including child

26.  In October 1995, the Committee on the Rights of the Child
participated in a consultation on child labour organized in the
framework of its regional consultation in the South Asian region.  The
consultation provided the opportunity for members of the Committee to
identify the specific strategies followed in the countries concerned
to prevent and combat the exploitation of children through work, to
ensure the effective protection of children's rights and to abolish
child labour.  During the debate, emphasis was placed upon the
Convention as a basis for the consideration of policies designed to
address child labour, due respect being paid to the general principles
of non-discrimination, respect for the views of the child, survival
and development of the child and the best interests of the child as a
primary consideration in all measures adopted.  In situations where
legal work was performed, providing for minimum ages for admission to
employment and for appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions
of employment was of a decisive importance.  The abolition of child
labour was identified as an essential and urgent goal and the need was
recognized for specific national strategies to be defined to achieve
it, with a stress on compulsory education.  The need to address the
informal as well as formal sector was underlined, and the
strengthening of international cooperation, in particular between
UNICEF and the ILO, was encouraged as a means of fostering the
realization of children's rights in that important field.

                                  5.  UNICEF

27.  In accordance with article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of
the Child, UNICEF supports a number of country-specific programmes
which address child labour.  These include education, health, street
children, legislative review and programmes addressing the commercial
sexual exploitation of children.  Particular attention is paid to the
condition of minority children, who more frequently find themselves
afflicted.  Initiatives such as rug-mark and a UNICEF procurement
policy which bind producers of goods to a commitment not to employ
child labour are being complemented by public awareness-raising
efforts.  As part of UNICEF's broader efforts to review its own policy
and strategy vis-a`-vis child labour, it sponsored a consultation in
South Asia, in cooperation with the ILO, the Committee on the Rights
of the Child, and NGOs.  Other initiatives include the dedication of
the report "The State of the World's Children 1997", to an analysis of
child labour worldwide and the drafting of several papers for the
World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.


                   A.  Recommendations at the national level

28.  The general discussion on child labour held by the Committee on
the Rights of the Child produced a number of recommendations by the
Committee aiming at the establishment of a national mechanism for
coordinating policies with regard to protection from economic
exploitation, in order to ensure a global and multidisciplinary
approach in this area; the launching of wide information campaigns
addressed to children, and to the public in general, and the
initiation of training of special professional groups; the recognition
of education as an essential preventive measure to counter situations
of economic exploitation of children through making primary education
compulsory and free for all children and using the Convention as an
incentive to encourage the participation of children in school and
social life; the protection of children against economic exploitation
by strictly forbidding a number of particularly harmful activities,
formulating standards or revising existing legislation in order to
ensure the legal protection of the child from any form of
exploitation; and the adoption of measures to ensure the
rehabilitation of children who, as a result of economic exploitation,
are exposed to serious physical and moral danger.  

29.  At the national level, the Convention on the Rights of the Child
has helped to integrate child labour issues into a broader concern for
children's rights, which has resulted in the passing of new
legislation geared towards an improvement of the legal protection
provided to the child.  It has allowed for an increased awareness of
and sensitization towards the problem of child labour and stimulated
data collection and research on the issue, and it has encouraged
Governments to rethink national development priorities and envisage
global strategies for the effective enjoyment by children of all their

30.  For example, the Committee has suggested that through years of
considerable experience accumulated by the international instruments
and mechanisms concerning the question of child labour, advisory
services and technical assistance have been requested not only in the
area of legal reforms and preventive campaigns to address the issue of
child labour but also with regard to evaluating the adequacy of
measures taken to deal with issues of the exploitation of children.

31.  Requests for technical assistance in the area of child labour have
also been made to UNICEF.  Suggestions have also been framed in more
general terms with respect to international assistance to improve the
situation of children in especially difficult circumstances and
continuing cooperation of the Government with intergovernmental
organizations and NGOs.

32.  In spite of all the measures described above, efforts still need
to be made to improve cooperation and coordination among the
Governments concerned, national non-governmental bodies and
specialized agencies which carry out projects in the country

33.  At the national level, the basic legislative framework for
addressing child labour issues already exists in most countries.  The
very complexity of the problem requires clear political commitment,
willingness and ability to take measures necessary for a dramatic
reduction and the eventual elimination of the incidence of
exploitative child labour.  The holistic perspective of the Convention
offers the framework for focusing more closely on preventive measures
to address the problem and to insist that greater resources be
diverted towards such preventive measures, particularly in times of
economic recession when basic human needs and social priority budgets
come under more severe pressure.

34.  It is clear that none of the actors in the fight against child
labour is able to solve it alone, and that the fight concerns
everyone.  Although non-governmental organizations have taken numerous
initiatives, sometimes with the support of municipal authorities, the
number of child workers they have reached represents an infinitesimal
proportion of those needing protection.  Therefore, Governments should
be mobilized, through such ministries as education, health, the
family, public information, and economic and social development
planning.  Furthermore, initiatives should not be limited to
government institutions at the central State level, but should closely
involve the municipal level as well.  Employer's and workers'
organizations also have an essential role to play (in that regard,
Governments should also cooperate with trade unions and employers'
organizations to address the problem of child labour) as do other
NGOs, the media, universities, members of parliament and teachers. 
All groups of society have to be involved in the fight against child

35.  Governments, in cooperation with different actors, could create
pilot projects geared to withdrawing children from particularly
harmful work situations, first by providing them with the essential
services they need, such as shelter, food and health care, and then by
offering them viable alternatives, to help them to gain access to
school, apprenticeship services and pre-vocational training, or
another remunerated activity in a sheltered workshop.  Then, the
results of these projects should be evaluated.

36.  Adequate training should be provided to the staff involved in
combating exploitation of child labour, employees of ministries and
municipalities, labour inspectors, trade unionists, representatives of
employers' organizations and NGO workers.

                B.  Recommendations at the international level

37.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights is committed to improving
the protection and promotion of children's rights through increased
inter-agency coordination and cooperation and to strengthening the
support being given to the work of the Committee; it is therefore
important to take pragmatic steps for effective cooperation.  The High
Commissioner, attaching great importance to the effective
implementation of the rights of the child, has developed, after
extensive consultations with the Committee on the Rights of the Child,
a plan of action to strengthen substantive support for the Committee's
work and to provide whatever resources may be necessary for the
implementation of its recommendations.  The implementation of the plan
of action calls for increased inter-agency and non-governmental
organization coordination.

38.  The Committee on the Rights of the Child requested the High
Commissioner to keep it informed of the progress made by States
parties in implementing the recommendations of the Committee and,
therefore, on any need for assistance for that purpose.  This request
has led to a process of interaction between the Committee, the
Governments concerned, civil society and international partners. 

39.  With regard to technical cooperation projects provided to
countries, improved coordination between the Office of the High
Commissioner, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the
ILO/IPEC projects will help establish priorities.  It should be noted
that the Committee paid particular attention to effective
national-level monitoring and coordinating mechanisms as a means to
promote national implementation of the Convention.  Furthermore,
ILO/IPEC aims to use a dual approach to achieve the progressive
elimination of child labour, first by strengthening national
capacities to address child labour problems and second by creating a
worldwide movement to combat child labour.  In that regard, ILO/IPEC
strives, inter alia, to support, rather than supplant, national
efforts to combat child labour and to build sustainability into all
demonstration programmes from the start and assess their potential for
integration into regular programmes of the partner organizations.  In
that context, the Committee and ILO/IPEC should take into
consideration their respective recommendations when they determine
which country to support and what kind of assistance is needed.  

40.  The High Commissioner wishes to support the international efforts
needed to make school education available to all in a concrete and
effective manner in order to provide an alternative to children to
exploitative labour, including prostitution.  In this regard, one may
recall the Committee's decision that  "National development programmes
should give priority to giving each child access to a good school." 
The High Commissioner supports the Committee's recognition of the
crucial need for international cooperation in achieving this goal,
involving not only UNESCO but also UNICEF, and would like to suggest
the active involvement of UNDP, the World Bank and IMF as well as the
donor community in such discussions.

41.  Finally, international organizations may be able to make their own
concrete contributions to the elimination of child labour by adopting
procurement policy similar to that of UNICEF.


     1/  A/CONF.157/24 (Part I), chap. III, paras. 48, 51 and 47.


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