Working Children

Basic Education should be provided to all children, youth and adults. The poor, street and working children should not suffer any discrimination in access to learning opportunities.
World Conference on Education for All, Jomtien, Thailand, 1990.

The problem of child labour is probably the single biggest obstacle to giving every child an education. The International Labour Office estimates the number of children, aged 5 to 17, who are working as cheap labour to be around 250 million. Many of these children come from impoverished rural families who have to employ every member to survive; others still work in dire situations of systematic exploitation in sweatshops and factories. Exposed to hazardous materials, working in servitude, many of these young labourers die an early death. The most destructive of child ‘work’ is prostitution. Around 2 million children fall within this area of employment worldwide. In Asia alone, perhaps more than 1 million minors, of both sexes, work in bars and brothels. Before long they are caught up in the deadly cycle of substance abuse and HIV infection.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges governments to protect young people under the age of 18 from labour exploitation, from being exposed to hazardous work and from work that could interfere with education.

Two further conventions have been passed by the International Labour Organisation. Neither is fully respected. Convention 138 states that no child under the age of 15 can be employed in any economic sector. Convention 182 states that harmful or hazardous employment such as military combat, mining, pornography or prostitution is banned to all under the age of 18.

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