The Conference aimed to reflect on the progress made since the previous gathering in 2010, as well as discussing new ways to step up global efforts against child labour, particularly in its worst forms.
A strong delegation of education union representatives from 14 countries highlighted the key role of universal free quality education, as well as the need to involve teachers in the elaboration of education policies as indispensable tools to effectively eradicate child labour.
Progress made, challenges ahead
The Conference was opened by Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, and Guy Ryder, General Director of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
The global number of child labourers had dropped from 246 million to 168 million over the last decade, said Ryder, referring to the ILO’s recent report, ‘Marking progress against child labour’.
The “bad news”, he explained, is that this will not be enough to achieve the goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016, as agreed by the international community through the ILO.
Ryder highlighted the importance of states working to “fulfill their obligation to ensure universal access to compulsory, formal education for all children up to the minimum age for work, and to improve the quality of education”.
Significant investment is required to achieve this. “We need 1.7 million more qualified teachers, at least”, he said. “We need to train and qualify the huge number of teachers who are unqualified. We need to make schools safe and joyous places for children.”
Jeroen Beirnaert, from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), acknowledged the progress made in reducing child labour in Brazil.
He also emphasised the need for an adequately resourced education. “We do urge our host to invest more in its teachers and its public education system,” he stated. “Tens of thousands have marched the streets of Rio two days ago, in support of an over-50 day strike, for good reason.”
Governments to take on responsibility
Panellist Kailash Satyarthi told that conference:“We won’t eliminate child labour until we have universal education. And we won’t get every child into school until we eliminate child labour.”
A tireless activist and co-founder of the 80,000km long Global March Against Child Labour, Satyarthi has played a significant role in linking the fight against child labour with the efforts for achieving Education for All.
Tereza Campello, Minister of Social Development and Fight against Hunger in Brazil, noted that child labour in her country has been reduced in periods of economic stagnation as well as in times of growth.
“Economic growth does not automatically result in the reduction of child labour, and poverty is not its only cause,” she said. Campello emphasised that political determination, public policies, and active involvement from all stakeholders are central to the fight against child labour.
Teachers as agents of change
EI Senior Coordinator Dominique Marlet participated in the panel, “Education Models and Schools”. During her contribution, Marlet focused on initiatives taken by teachers and their unions to identify and eliminate child labour through education.
She noted that, despite a general consensus that education should be high on the agenda to eradicate child labour, ‘teachers’ appeared to be a key missing element in the discussions.
“Teachers, those who deliver education, are often excluded from the Government policies to improve the quality of education,” Marlet stated. “If teachers request collective bargaining, social dialogue, and avenues to be engaged in education policies, it is not only to talk bread and butter issues. It is mostly to contribute to developing the best possible learning opportunities for all children and adolescents.”
Marlet also outlined the essential elements of a quality education: universal and free access to quality teachers, modern teaching tools and resources, and supportive, safe and secure environments for teaching and learning.
On the last day of the Conference, former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva delivered a vibrant closing speech. “There is not a lack of resources, but a lack of political will to end child labour worldwide”, Lula pointed out.
The Declaration of Brasilia, a final statement expressing the commitment of the countries to the sustainable eradication of child labour, was outlined. This document will guide and support future efforts to eliminate child labour worldwide.
Point 6 states: “We stress that education, health and social workers should be entitled to decent working conditions and relevant initial and continuous training, and that related policies should be developed with workers’ organizations through social dialogue.”
To read the full declaration please go here