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Kailash Satyarthi's Keynote Address at UNESCO’s Working Group on EFA Meeting

As far as I know this is the first EFA working group which is identifying and addressing one of the most critical missing link in achieving EFA, that is, child labour. We have been concerned about a figure of 103 million out of school children, 18 per cent of all primary school-aged children. But where does this figure come from?"

July 19, 2006

Honourable Chair, Director General, Panellists, and dear friends,
First of all, I thank you all for giving me this opportunity to share with you. I would like to applaud the leadership and direction provided by Mr. Matsuura and Mr. Peter Smith in bringing us together, especially for locating child labour and education within the key EFA framework as a step forward from Beijing.

As far as I know this is the first EFA working group which is identifying and addressing one of the most critical missing link in achieving EFA, that is, child labour. We have been concerned about a figure of 103 million out of school children, 18 per cent of all primary school-aged children. But where does this figure come from? They are not the children sitting at home idly or having too much fun in their lives, so not able to attend schools. There is another bigger and challenging statistics. 218 million children are victims of one or another form of child labour. Of them, more than two-thirds are trapped in slavery, forced labour, prostitution, hazardous work- the farms, factories, mines and even inside the homes.

We must not forget that 94% of out-of-school children of primary school are in developing countries and that the vast majority of both out-of-school children and child labourers are in South Asia (35%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (40%) is indicative of the linkages that bind them together. These figures fail to capture the agony and plight; the human cost and wasted potential and the endless sagas of exploitation, injustice and slavery caused due to educational deprivation.

Education is not an individual but an inter-sectoral issue. Education for All, is one of the four critical, closely interrelated processes affecting the future of our world, especially our children. The others are poverty, child labour and insecurity.
Education is no longer a power tool in the hands of few, but it is freedom, liberty, development, life and future for millions who are trapped in servitude, trafficking, forced beggary, domestic labour, prostitution and as child soldiers. Free quality education for all is the key to social justice, equity, protection of childhood and combating poverty.

As a grassroots activist who is engaged in the fight against child labour for last 25 years, I can say with my little experience that imparting education and elimination of child labour are the two sides of same coin. One can not be achieved without other.

Child labour continues to remain a major obstacle in the realisation of Education and well as the international goals and commitments. Within the framework of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) there is a “hidden goal” that underlies each of the eight goals and in some cases is central to their achievement, notably those to do with eradication of poverty, attaining universal primary education, promoting gender equality and combating HIV/AIDS. This “hidden goal” is none other that the elimination of child labour. Sometimes we fail to acknowledge and register that if there are about two hundred million children who are engaged in some form of labour, how can they receive education? Even if they are enrolled in schools it is impossible to ensure their retention and completion primary school education.

A child labour who attended the US Congressional hearing on education during the GCE Global Action Week in April this year asked innocently the US lawmakers, “how could I be divided into two so as to remain present in the classroom and at my work place all at the same time?”

It is needless to say that there is a continuum that extends between the Dakar Framework of Action on Education for All, the ILO conventions, particularly 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour and the Millennium Development Goals. A crucial target group for inclusive education strategies is the millions of child labourers worldwide who have never attended school and possibly might never in future either, if we don’t act now.

Education has a dual role in relation to child labour. It is on one hand, a crucial element in the rehabilitation and social reintegration of child labourers and on the other, a powerful tool in preventing children at risk from slipping into situations of child labour.

The initiatives undertaken in the recent past to harmonise work on the cross-cutting issues of education, poverty and child labour are beginning to show results. The dramatic decline in child labour appears because of countries like China, Thailand and Brazil, which have demonstrated political commitment to reduce poverty and expand education in recent past. Recently India’s Education Minister, while inaugurating the Children’s World Congress on Child Labour and Education, strongly emphasised the link between child labour and education.

One of the most promising developments towards these inter-linkages is the formation of the Global Task Force on Child Labour and Education. It was launched during the Beijing Round Table in November 2005 with the fullest blessings and support of UNESCO’s leadership. The Task Force is a manifestation of collective will of inter-governmental agencies and global civil society, to fight illiteracy and child labour simultaneously. The Task Force, constituted by ILO, UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank and the Global March Against Child Labour.

The overall objective of the Task Force is to contribute to the achievement of EFA goals through the elimination of child labour. The Task Force is a partnership to mobilise political will and momentum towards mainstreaming the issue of child labour in national and international policy frameworks contributing to the EFA objectives and MDG’s. The Task Force is to be viewed essentially as helping build an enabling environment for countries that aim to achieve EFA and child labour elimination. This strategy will be pursued though:

  • strengthening the knowledge base on child labour and education linkages
  • advocacy and social mobilisation
  • policy coherence
  • programme support
  • partnerships

The strategy will be flexible and adapted as per the local needs.

Generally speaking, the policy partnership is improving in a number of countries, resulting in positive outcomes. In April, 22 African Finance Ministers met in Abuja and made a commitment to prepare long-term plans to achieve the EFA goals- and as finance ministers they were eager to stress that these plans must be placed firmly within their national budgets. 
The Task Force is planning two activities as the initial joint initiatives:

a. Child Domestic Labour and Education – Child Domestic Labour remains on the fringes of child labour, far from the glare of international action… a hidden phenomenon. Child domestic labour is a widespread and growing global phenomenon that traps as many as ten million children or more - mostly girls - in hidden forms of exploitation, often involving abuse, health risks and violence. These children, working behind closed doors in a private home, are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Both the practice of employing child domestics, and the exploitative way in which they tend to be treated, are socially endorsed in most societies in which the practice occurs. Changing this ingrained social acceptance is the greatest challenge with regard to advocacy on their behalf.

Hence, a comprehensive and integrated programme on Child Domestic Labour and education should be designed to ensure that national actors execute all interventions in an integrated and coordinated manner and that Task Force can provide technical and financial support

b. Secondly, a joint action will be developed, focussing on a few countries which connects the themes of child labour, poverty reduction and education and shows the policy linkages between them. The myth of “poverty syndrome” has been blown. Most often, it is child labour which in turn leads to poverty. Child labour perpetuates poverty by depressing adult employment, does not allow conditions for collective bargaining and unionisation of work force, thereby, suppressing the economy and finally leading to poverty. There are ample of evidences that there is a direct parallel between number of unemployment adult and child labourers.

c. Recent ILO report indicates that explicit concern with child labour is rarely found in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs). A review carried about the World Bank from August-September 2005 found that of the 70 countries that have prepared a PRSP, only 12 dealt with child labour.

The Global Task Force proposes to work for integration of child labour, first and foremost, in the PRSP source book, which is the guiding tool for the countries to design their strategies. PRSP source book now in its current form pays little explicit attention to child labour.  

Once again, let me reaffirm the global civil society’s fullest cooperation to the governments in combating child labour and achieving education for all as an integrated action, which has been exhibited in our on-going efforts towards implementation of ILO Conventions 182 and 138, as well as our Global Action Weeks by mobilising millions of children and people in favour of education.

It is time that the countries should not hesitate to admit the existence of child labour as the biggest obstacle to EFA. Denial will never lead to solutions. Also that Ministries of Education can not be complacent by saying that the issue of child labour is outside the domain of the Education Ministries. This is a fundamental problem.

The dominant areas of prevalence of child labour should be identified and special educational measures be taken. On one hand, teachers and school going children be sensitized about the child labour, and on the other hand, the labour inspectoral system be oriented and connected with the EFA at local and national level. The ways and means of coordination must be smoothened among these sectors involved for effective implementation. Finally, let me say that there is no dearth of good practices carried out by governments, inter-governmental agencies and civil society. They must be collected and disseminated. I would like to appeal to the donor community to integrate child labour elimination in education sector funding as well as in poverty alleviation programmes.

The future of these more than two hundred million children is the collective future of the humankind. Our delay is paying enormous cost. We are primarily accountable to them. Whose children? They are ours.

Education for All is a non-negotiable as is complete elimination of child labour. Addressing one without the other is like finishing only one-half of the promise. We must remember that we have borrowed this world from our children so we return it to them in better shape. Thanks.
Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
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