The teacher trade union delegation to the Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour reiterated the need for quality teacher and public education system to eradicate the scourge of child labour.
The Conference, which was held between 14 and 16 November in Buenos Aires, Argentina, strongly deplored the fact that 152 million children throughout the world are the victims of labour exploitation. Forty-four years after the adoption of Convention 138 on the minimum age for admission to employment, the same observations can be made: although laws and conventions exist, the commitment to implementing them remains insufficient.
Crucial investment by governments in quality public education
The representatives of Education International, the International Union of Workers in the Food, Agricultural, Hospitality-Catering, Tobacco and related industries, the International Federation of Transport Workers and the International Trade Union Confederation recalled during the Conference that the eradication of child labour requires massive investment by governments in quality public education.
“Projects aimed at combating child labour implemented by teachers' unions show that quality schools that pay attention to children's needs are the first step towards considerably reducing the exploitation of children,” said Hillary Yuba, the delegate of the Progressive Teachers Union Zimbabwe. "Child labour cannot be eliminated without properly trained teachers, without attractive schools. In our projects, the teachers raise awareness among local populations about the importance of education, with the support of the local authorities. This community-based approach makes everyone responsible for ensuring that all children are in school. We manage to convey the message that any child not in school is a child who is a victim of exploitation through labour."
Education, the key to fighting child labour
Although all speakers at the Global Conference were in agreement that education is key in combating child labour, the unions must continually recall that it requires free and quality public education.
“We must prevent the privatisation of education at all costs,” explained Noemi Tejeda, Secretary for issues relating to health and security of the Confederación de Trabajadores de la Educación de la República Argentina. “Businesses cannot tell us how to educate our children, and they cannot dictate what the children will learn. Education must not be aimed solely at ensuring young people's employability, it must serve to emancipate and train young people who are aware of their rights, and in particular their rights to decent work. Increasing the flexibility of labour markets will not help to combat youth unemployment; doing so requires guaranteeing access for all to decent jobs. Reforming tax systems is necessary for ensuring a better distribution of wealth, for ensuring that a social security system can help the poor to access quality schools and complete their studies.”
Lack of education, the Trojan Horse of terrorist movements used to recruit young people
The Ministers of Labour of Niger and Afghanistan stressed how the lack of education was responsible for youths being recruited into terrorist movements. Afghan Minister of Labour Faizullah Zaki Ibrahimi noted that “in Afghanistan, 50 percent of the budget is devoted to military spending, and barely 18 percent is devoted to social services, including education and health. If we could invest more in education, make our schools more interesting and attractive for all, we could prevent young people from being recruited by insurgent groups”.
Gerardo Martinez, from the General Labour Confederation of Argentina and Vice-President of the Global Conference, reminded the group of workers that the preliminary negotiations of the Conference were difficult. “Some employers wanted us to accept that informal work and child labour are cultural issues first and foremost in certain countries, and that we should accept these transitional steps before eradicating those forms of labour. Over the course of many meetings, we were able to move towards a more balanced statement.”
Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Peace Prize winner: the education of children: the key to social justice and a right granting access to other rights
Emphasising the fact that the education of children is the key to achieving social justice and is a right which grants access to all other rights, Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi said: “It would take just $ 22 billion [USD] to provide primary education to all children on the planet. This is equivalent to four days of global military spending. Where do our priorities lie? We know how to eradicate child labour. Solutions do exist; they have been successfully implemented around the world. They involve combating discrimination against girls, the economic development of women, schools where girls feel safe, and a commitment to education from moral and religious leaders. Approaches such as those used in child-friendly villages and areas free of child labour are powerful tools for combating the exploitation of children.”