ERIC Identifier: ED475384
Publication Date: 2003-04-00
Author: Hamot, Gregory E. - Jensen, Elizabeth S.
ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington
Teaching about Child Labor and International Human Rights. ERIC
Children constitute part of the labor force in virtually every country. An
estimated 246 million people between the ages of 5 and 17 work in the
agricultural, industrial, and craft sectors worldwide. Approximately 180 million
of these children work under the worst forms of child labor as defined by the
International Labor Organization (2002). In spite of conventions and protocols
designed to eradicate the worst forms of child labor, international human rights
violations concerning children in the workplace persist. This Digest defines
child labor and its worst forms within the context of international human
rights, describes several key protocols and conventions aimed at eliminating
these worst forms, proposes a rationale for teaching about certain issues in
child labor, and offers parameters for choosing instructional strategies that
teach about the worst forms of child labor.
CHILD LABOR AND ITS WORST FORMS.
Not all economic activity
performed by children is necessarily a "worst form" of child labor. The
International Labor Organization (ILO) distinguishes between acceptable forms of
work by children and child labor that should be eradicated. The ILO defines
child labor as "all children under 15 years of age who are economically active
excluding (i) those who are under five years old and (ii) those between 12 14
years old who spend less than 14 hours a week on their jobs, unless their
activities or occupations are hazardous by nature or circumstance" (ILO 2002,
Of course, any form of labor that endangers a child, denies a child's right
to an education, or exposes a child to illicit activities is unacceptable. The
unacceptable, worst forms of child labor include work such as bonded labor,
prostitution and pornography, illicit activities, armed combat, and physically
and mentally hazardous labor. These worst forms manifest themselves in
violations of a nation's minimum age laws; threats to a child's physical,
mental, or emotional well being; intolerable abuses such as child slavery,
forced labor, or hazardous working conditions; illicit activities such as drug
and contraband trafficking or debt bondage; and work that prevents a child from
going to school.
PROTOCOLS AND CONVENTIONS.
In 1973, the ILO adopted
Convention 138, commonly known as the Minimum Age Convention, which sought to
regulate the minimum acceptable age for different categories of work ranging
from light work to work that is hazardous to a child's growth and development.
In most cases, 15 is the minimum acceptable age, but in some underdeveloped
countries age 14 is allowable (ILO 1973).
For years after Convention 138 was adopted, scholars and activists debated
its effectiveness to progressively eliminate child labor and began working
toward a more effective solution. Eventually, the ILO adopted a new convention.
ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, unanimously adopted by ILO
member countries in June 1999, was aimed at the immediate elimination of
intolerable forms of child labor (ILO 1999). Convention 182 has focused the
attention of the ILO, various national governments, and civil society
organizations' resources on working toward eliminating child labor.
The United Nations also adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child
(CRC) in 1989. The CRC is the most widely ratified convention in the history of
the United Nations. Two specific protocols related to the CRC that deal with the
worst forms of child labor were also adopted one dealing with prostitution and
pornography and the other addressing the issue of children in armed combat
situations (United Nations 1989).
These conventions and protocols are only a handful of the international human
rights instruments that are relevant to child labor. In addition, Articles 23
and 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights seek to
guarantee "just and favorable conditions of work" and the "right to education,"
both of which are violated constantly and globally through the exercise of the
worst forms of child labor (United Nations 1948).
RATIONALE AND ISSUES FOR TEACHING AND LEARNING.
widespread adoption of these international conventions, declarations, and
protocols, child labor continues in our global society. Given the nexus between
international human rights and the worst forms of child labor, students need to
know and understand the international laws and conventions that protect them and
other students around the world from unfair, harmful, and cruel child labor
practices. As citizens of the twenty first century, students should be prepared
to recognize and evaluate the conditions and situations under which
approximately 180 million of their peers work and live each day. The ultimate
goal of such learning experiences is for students to become motivated to act on
behalf of all the children of the world in abolishing the violations of human
rights found in the damaging and harmful practices associated with child labor.
Failure to abolish child labor in general, in particular its "worst forms," has
led to the suggestion that the issue of child labor is not simply an issue of
worker rights or child rights, but an issue of basic human rights which apply to
all human beings. Thus, any curriculum that addresses human rights as a national
or international imperative would include child labor as a pertinent topic.
Levels of income, forms of democratic constitutionalism, and cultural regard
for education are all determinants in the plight of children in the workforce.
Data show that in places where working parents are able to improve working
conditions and establish acceptable labor standards (such as adequate salaries),
children are much less likely to have to work and, therefore, are much less
likely to become victims of harmful labor practices that deny them the
essentials of education that underpin a democratic society (Swinnerton and
Willcutts 2000, 17).
CHOOSING INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES.
developed three models for teaching about human rights that emerged from her
research in several countries (2002). By their nature, these models also apply
to teaching about child labor as an aspect of human rights. Each of the
models-the values and awareness model, the accountability model, and the
transformational model- is tailored to a different teaching style and approach.
Regarding the knowledge component of a curriculum that teaches about child
labor, The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR), through a
contract with the United States Department of Labor, is compiling the largest
database on child labor laws and statistics in the world. As part of this
contract, the UICHR began developing pre-collegiate curricular models that
emphasize the following knowledge and skills objectives for learning about child
labor that should be included in any course or set of instructional materials
that deal with this human rights topic on an international scale. They recommend
that students studying child labor, especially its worst forms, should be able
(1) recognize and understand international laws, protocols and conventions
enacted to abolish or ameliorate harmful child labor practices around the world,
as set forth particularly in ILO Conventions 138 and 182, the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the United Nations Universal
Declaration of Human Rights;
(2) understand reasons for the failure of many of these laws and conventions;
(3) become knowledgeable about all forms and practices of child labor,
particularly those identified as the "worst forms"; understand the context
and/or culture in which child labor is often used or practiced; and
(4) develop ideas and commit to action and activities that will significantly
aid in the eradication of child labor everywhere.
Essentially, Tibbitts and the UICHR offer criteria for developing and making
decisions about instructional materials that offer students and teachers a
well-considered approach to learning about child labor, a topic in international
human rights that is as delicate as it is important for the advancement of the
rights of children everywhere.
The following Web sites contain
resources and information on teaching human rights and child labor:
Children's Rights Information Network. This site includes resources, events,
news, and links related to child labor as well as information on themes within
child labor: <www.crin.org>.
The International Labor Organization. The text of both the ILO Convention 138
and Convention 182 and ratification information as well as statistics and
definitions of child labor and hazardous child labor are all provided on this
Free the Children. Craig Kielburger's Web site is based on his remarkable
quest for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor. The Web site
includes school kits, resources, books, and primary sources:
Rethinking Schools Online. This site includes articles, lesson plans, and
material to use when teaching human rights and child labor issues:
UNICEF www.unicef.org is a key promoter of children's rights. This specific
UNICEF site includes classroom activities, resources, and links to other Web
United Nations. This Web site is dedicated exclusively to resources for
teaching human rights: <www.un.org/Pubs/k12/educate.htm>.