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International Law Essay

International Organizations are attempting to target and eliminate child labour beginning by pinpointing the problem itself and understanding the reasons for it. UNICEF’s latest statistics from 2011 indicate that one in every six children aged five to fourteen are engaged in child labour in developing countries. The International Labour Organization (ILO) says there are over two hundred and fifteen million children working worldwide either part time or full time jobs. Furthermore, seventy percent of them work in dangerous environments. The ILO is leading the fight in eliminating child labour in an organized fashion.

Their research suggests the damaging effects of child labour must be systematically eliminated beginning with the worst forms of child labour. The process begins with understanding the problem itself, the causes and consequences, socio-political aspects, and all the variables involved. The hard work of the ILO has helped create Treaties and Conventions banning child labour and “identifying concrete measures for Governments to take (UNICEF, 2011).” Through socio-legal challenges, the ILO is working tirelessly as they are at the forefront of the fight against child labour. This has resulted in various forms of success as they still have a long way to go. Using labour standards, Conventions, Recommendations, creating organizations, getting member states involved, raising awareness, and stressing basic human rights, the International Labour Organization has created a formula in the fight to end child labour.

UNICEF- Convention on the Rights of the Child

UNICEF, acronym of United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, has a mission to advocate for the protection of children’s rights, “to help meet their basic needs and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential (UNICEF, 2011).” Just like the ILO, UNICEF is a special programme of the United Nations. This international organization relates to the ILO because of their devotion to aiding children internationally and aiding national efforts to improve health, nutrition, education, and general welfare of children (UNICEF, 2012). Although UNICEF’s goals are not based on targeting and eliminating child labour itself, they take a huge part in helping the cause. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (2012), since 1996 UNICEF programmes have been guided by the “Convention on the Rights of the Child,” which affirms the right to all children to “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health (UNICEF 2012).”

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is built on various international legal systems and cultural traditions. This Convention is a “universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations (UNICEF, 2011).” These are basic standards which are also referred to as human rights which set minimum entitlements and freedoms that are expected to be respected by all governments. UNICEF (2011) states that it is founded on respect for the dignity and worth of each individual, regardless of race, color, gender, language, religion, opinions, origins, wealth, birth status or ability. Therefore, they apply to every human being no matter where they are located.

Not only are governments obligated to follow this Convention, but so are all individuals and employers regarding the rights of all humans. Furthermore, UNIFEC (2011) says that “we cannot ensure some rights without – or at the expense of – other rights.” Many countries including Canada have had to make changes to their common and civil law as a result of ratifying this Convention. However, this has been done for the better because local laws have been created to follow up with this Convention. For example, youth criminal laws in Canada underwent major changes resulting in the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) which defines Canada’s different commitments under the Convention.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is a legally binding instrument which is the first international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights. This includes civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. This is a special Convention, particularly for that reason that world leaders agreed on the fact that children under the age of eighteen years old often need the protection and care that adults do not. Furthermore, this would be a Convention for the world to recognize that children also have human rights. It sets out these human rights in 54 articles and two optional protocols. The first optional protocol restricts the involvement of children in military conflicts, and the second optional protocol prohibits the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The articles identified by UNICEF (2011) spell out the basic human rights that children everywhere have:

The right to survival; to develop to the fullest; protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life. The four core principles of the Convention are non-discrimination; devotion to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child. UNICEF (2011) states that “every right spelled out in the Convention is inherent to the human dignity and harmonious development of every child.” The Convention protects children’s rights by setting standards in health care; education; and legal, civil and social services.

National governments have agreed to undertake the obligations of the Convention, therefore have committed themselves to protecting and ensuring children’s rights. They have also agreed to hold themselves accountable for this commitment before the international community. It is the governments’ obligation to make sure they do their part after signing or giving formal consent to the Convention, therefore treating it as a treaty, contract, or agreement and making it officially valid. Both the protocols have been ratified by a hundred and ninety four nations. These nations that have ratified this Convention are bound to it by international law. Furthermore, compliance is monitored by the United Nations committee on the Rights of the Child because it is important to make sure the member states are acting and complying according to the Convention.

As far as the child labour topic goes, focusing on the International Labour Organization is far more important than focusing on UNIFIC. As suggested earlier, UNICEF’s focus is on advocating and paying attention to the general welfare of children globally. This includes children that do not work, whereas the ILO focuses on child labour issues among other labour issues of the world. The global importance of both of these international organizations is immeasurable. Therefore, understanding the fact that this topic is on child labour issues, it only makes sense to focus on the ILO.

The ILO Structure

The International Labour Organization’s work is based on encouraging and promoting the development of social and economic progress. It is important for governments, employers’, and workers’ organizations to cooperate in order for this structure to function. Furthermore, their aim is to ensure that it serves the needs of working men and woman by “bringing together governments, employers and workers to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes (International Labour Organization, 2012).” In other words, the ILO has created a form of a governing system for the international workforce to ensure safety and to protect all individuals.

The ILO structure emphasizes equality where the workers and employers have equal voices with the governments. The ILO also encourages promoting a social dialogue between the trade unions and employers (International Labour Organization, 2012). Where appropriate, they implement national policy on social, economic, and other issues. There is no international organization that is like the ILO because it resulted in the tripartite organization, “the only one of its kind bringing together representatives of governments, employers, and workers in its executive bodies (International Labour Organization, 2012).” The ILO accomplishes its work through three main bodies which are “The International Labour Conference,” “The Governing Body,” and “The Office.” These main bodies oversee progress and changes in the global fight against child labour. This allows governments’, employers’, and workers’ representatives to settle disputes and reach agreements by mutual concessions.

ILO Conventions and Recommendations

Conventions and Recommendations are drawn up by representatives of governments, employers and workers and are adopted at the ILO’s annual International Labour Conference (International Labour Organization, 2012). The ILO has its own Constitution which gives them the authority required to eliminate child labour. Member States are required under this Constitution to submit them to their parliament for consideration. Once a Member State ratifies a Convention, it takes a year after the date of ratification for it to come into force. Therefore, there is a process involved and nothing happens overnight in the fight to eliminate child labour. After ratifying, nations must apply the Convention in their national law and practice. Furthermore, the countries must report on its application at regular intervals as required by the ILO. The ILO provides technical assistance if necessary. In addition, “representation and complaint procedures can be initiated against countries for violations of a convention they have ratified (International Labour Organization, 2012).”

Fundamental & Governance Conventions

The ILO’s Governing Body has identified eight Conventions as “fundamental,” covering subjects that are considered as fundamental principles and rights at work. The fundamental Conventions include “freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour; the effective abolition of child labour; and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation (International Labour Organization, 2012).” They date back to 1930 and go to the latest Fundamental Convention that was issued in 1999. These principles are also covered in the ILO’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998). The ILO launched a campaign in 1995 to achieve a worldwide ratification of these eight Conventions. This would be a huge breakthrough in the fight to eliminate child labour as there would be worldwide support of at least the fundamental principles and rights of work. There are currently over 1,200 ratifications of these Conventions, representing 86% of the possible number of ratifications.

The ILO’s Governing Body also came up with four Conventions as “priority” instruments, thereby encouraging member states to ratify them because of their importance for the functioning of the international labour standards system (International Labour Organization, 2012). Since 2008, they are referred to as Governance Conventions. These Conventions were identified by the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization as the standards that are the most significant from the viewpoint of governance. The Governance Conventions include “Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81); Employment Policy Convention, 1964 (No. 122); Labour Inspection (Agriculture) Convention, 1969 (No. 129); Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention, 1976 (No. 144).” As the titles suggest, the ILO finds it is just as important to inspect what Member States are doing as it is to create laws. There is no sense in creating a law that is not monitored, inspected, or enforced.

International Labour Standards

International labour standards are “legal instruments drawn up by the ILO’s constituents and setting out basic principles and rights of work (International Labour Organization, 2012).” International labour standards refer to either Conventions or Recommendations. Conventions according to the ILO are legally binding international treaties which can be ratified by member states. Recommendations are non-binding guidelines. In many cases, a Convention lays down the basic principles to be implemented by ratifying countries. A related Recommendation completes the convention by providing more detailed guidelines on how it could be applied (International Labour Organization, 2012). The intent of labour standards is to establish a minimum level of protection from inhumane labour practices, basic rights, enhancing job security, and improving the terms of employment on a global scale. The workplace globally needs equal basic rights, which must be on ethical grounds according to the ILO.

The International Labour Standards consist of twenty three subjects which are further broken down into more specific subtopics. Each topic and subtopic has its own Convention. A Convention is an agreement between states, governments, parties, or military forces, especially an international agreement dealing with specific subjects, such as child labour (Mifflin, 2000). International organizations use these Conventions as their weapons in order to fight child labour. It is their legal instrument to hold governments and partners who agree and consent to them liable if they fail to act according to the Convention.

The twenty three international labour standards include freedom of association, collective bargaining, and industrial relations; forced labour; elimination of child labour and protection of children and young persons; equality of opportunity and treatment; tripartite consultation; labour administration and inspection; employment policy and promotion; vocational guidance and training; employment security; wages; working time; occupational safety and health; social security; maternity protection; social policy; migrant workers; HIV and AIDS; seafarers; fishermen; dockworkers; indigenous and tribal peoples; specific categories of workers; and final articles Conventions.

Origins of ILO and its Conventions

Conventions are a part of the international labour standards and all nations that accept them must apply them to their laws. Many of the Conventions date back to the beginning of the ILO. The ILO was created in 1919, “as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War 1, to reflect the belief that universal and lasting peace can be accomplished only if it is based on social justice (International Labour Organization, 2012).” The term peace well describes their goals because they seek a peaceful global workforce where no one is exploited or put to work in dangerous circumstances. The Constitution was drafted in the same year the ILO was created by the Labour Commission set up by the Peace Conference. According to Encyclopedia Britannica (2012), the Constitution signifies “the body of doctrines and practices that form the fundamental organizing principle of a political state.” Furthermore, a treaty which establishes an international organization is also its Constitution in that it would define how that organization is constituted.

Advocacy for an international organization dealing with labour issues dates back to the nineteenth century. Therefore, the ILO is not the first and only organization who recognized the importance of dealing with worldwide labour issues. However, they are the first organization to take significant actions to make a change. The ILO formed after considering the security, humanitarian, political and economic problems of the world. The ILO Constitution’s Preamble says “the High Contracting Parties were moved by sentiments of justice and humanity as well as by desire to secure the permanent peace of the world (International Labour Organization, 2012).” The ILO’s mission has remained consistent as most of the areas of improvement listed in the Preamble remain relevant today. For example, regulations of the hours of work including the establishment of a maximum working day, dates back to the beginning of the ILO.

International Labour Standards Directly Concerning Child Labour

Some international labour standards deal with the issue of child labour directly, while others do indirectly. “Elimination of child labour and protection of children and young persons” deals directly with the issue of child labour as the title suggests. This is the labour standard number three which has four fundamental Conventions on child labour and related Recommendations. The four Conventions include the Minimum Age Convention created in 1973 (“No. 138”), Minimum Age Recommendation created in 1973 (“No. 146”), Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention created in 1999 (“No. 182”), and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Recommendation created in 1999 (“No.190”).

The Minimum Age Convention is concerning the minimum age for admission to employment. Convention 138 (“C138”) was created on the fifty-eighth session of the Governing Body of the International Labour Office. The goal of this Convention was to establish a general instrument on the subject, which would gradually replace the existing ones applicable to limited economic sectors (International Labour Organization, 2012).” Previously there had been Minimum Age Conventions for certain industries and areas where people could work. For example, Minimum Age Sea Convention or the Minimum Age Non-Industrial Employment Convention. Instead of focusing on every sector individually, the Governing Body came up with a specific Minimum Age Convention concerning all children and all forms of work.

This Convention includes eighteen judicial articles in which the nations that ratify this Convention must follow. The Minimum Age Recommendations include fourteen national policies for which nations can follow but are not bound to by law. The Recommendations mostly explain what countries should do to follow the articles of the Convention itself. For example, national policy one says “high priority should be given to planning for and meeting the needs of children and youth in national development policies and programmes…” This Convention is regarded as being of high importance because in the past, children as young as five years old became child labourers.

The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention concerning the prohibition and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour. Convention 182 (“C182”) was created at the eighty-seventh Session of the Governing Body of the International Labour Office. The goal of this Convention and its sixteen articles is in a sense created to compliment the Convention and Recommendation concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment. The Governing Body was “considering the need to adopt new instruments for the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, as the main priority for national and international action (International Labour Organization, 2012).” In other words, they needed solutions to the problem and recognizing that child labour is to an extent caused by poverty.

Therefore, “long-term solution lies in sustained economic growth leading to social progress, in particular poverty alleviation and universal education (International Labour Organization, 1973).” This Convention really pushes nations that ratify it to take actions in eliminating the worst forms of child labour. The most notable articles state “the term child shall apply to all persons under the age of 18,” and “each Member shall, after consultation with employers’ and workers’ organizations, establish or designate appropriate mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the provisions giving effect to this Convention.” Overall, all the articles of this Convention are instructing the members about what they must do in detail and the processes for these actions are to begin immediately.

The second part to the Elimination of Child Labour and Protection of Children and Young Persons labour standard is “Protection of Children and Young Persons.” This is mostly “Up-to-date instruments” which means these Conventions were created between 1919 and 1965 and therefore needed to be revised and updated. These Conventions include the Medical Examination of Young Persons, Minimum Age, and Night Work of Young Persons. It is important for the Governing Body to go over previous Conventions and address the changes that need to be made or have been made in order to monitor the progress.

Nearly all international labour standards have an impact on child labour in one way or another. For example, “Equality of Opportunity and Treatment” is an international labour standard that concerns all individuals. If an adult is treated with equality, gets the opportunities and treatment that they deserve, their children will not have to earn a living and can pursue an education. This opens up doors for the following generations of children where they can receive education because their parents have good jobs. Relatively, this connects to the international labour standard of “Forced Labour” because the ILO’s evidence suggests that children and families as a whole are often forced into labour. The reasons can include unpaid debts, poverty, or any other reason from the list of causes of child labour. Therefore, these individuals face mistreatment and are often neglected from their basic human rights. Since these international labour standards connect with one another, it helps the cause because even if one of them is accepted by a Member State, it automatically helps another problem that we may be unaware of.


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