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close this bookAction Against Child Labour (ILO, 2000, 356 p.)
close this folder9. Action by community groups and NGOs
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View the document9.3 LESSONS LEARNED


The active involvement of civil society organizations - in particular of non-governmental and community-based organizations - is an essential element in the fight against child labour.

In many countries, initiatives against child labour have been launched first by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs).

In the child rights movement, NGOs and CBOs have assumed proactive roles. Whether as advocates within the community, as direct service providers, or as resource persons for capacity building in research and training, they have made significant contributions at the national and international levels.

NGOs and CBOs play a crucial role in discovering and publicizing concrete cases of child labour. They are well placed to document areas, activities and workplaces that put working children at serious risk. They are able to point out the shortcomings in public sector action, in particular failure to enforce relevant laws and regulations.

They can influence family and community concerns and values that determine whether and where children work. They can stimulate the required changes in popular culture.

More importantly, NGOs and CBOs are able to devise and implement action programmes on behalf of children already working. They are close to the children concerned, know their special needs, and generally enjoy the trust of the local communities in which these children live. They are therefore well placed to mobilize the human and material resources available in the community.

In many countries, they have been able to demonstrate the impact of innovative, relatively low-cost interventions. Many of their initiatives have proved especially relevant to child workers because they were developed and implemented with the active participation of children and their parents. Most of their programmes are community-based and are implemented in the workplaces of children or close to the places where children converge. This proximity allows for an understanding of the children's reality as well as a more sympathetic attitude, and sets the stage for open, participatory approaches.

In the past decade, NGOs and CBOs have become more visible and have been recognized for their work with children and families in difficult living and working conditions. Governments, intergovernmental organizations and donors have shown increasing interest in their work against child labour. There is widening support for and linkages with NGO activities by governments and donors in the search for effective and innovative strategies and responses. This chapter highlights selected practical experiences of NGOs and advocacy against child labour.

Box 9.1. NGOs and CBOs

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are non-profit oriented legal organizations composed mostly of socially concerned and committed professionals who are often involved on a full-time basis in the welfare, human rights promotion and development of marginalized sectors and communities. Their services are usually in the form of resources, capacity building, issue advocacy, information, legal and moral support, and other support services. Since the ultimate judges of the effectiveness and success of their operations are the communities or sectors they serve, NGOs are considered to be primarily accountable to them. NGOs may have their own independent offices or may be based within church institutions or universities. If based within the latter, they have separate legal identities, charters and boards, and perform activities that are developmental in nature.

People's organizations or community-based organizations (CBOs) are associations of communities or sectors, formed mainly to protect and promote the welfare and interests of their members. The scope of their membership and activities may be focused on a neighbourhood or community, or may expand up to the municipal, provincial and national levels, and even to the international level.

In start-up activities in most countries participating in the ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), NGOs have taken on the role of discovering and denouncing child labour abuses, lobbying and advocating for children's rights and policy reform, and providing direct services for working children and their families.

Much of the earlier NGO involvement covering child labour was stereotyped as relief and welfare action, and sometimes as part of community development approaches. Often, actions of various NGOs were neither coordinated nor designed to deal with child workers and child labour in a comprehensive way. NGOs are progressively facing the newer challenges of (a) addressing the structural roots of the problem, and (b) systematically eliciting the support of all sectors of society, including those with whom they have sometimes had an adversarial relationship, such as government and the private sector, to successfully eliminate child labour.

Many NGOs and CBOs have increased their collaboration with the ILO's social partners, and their project areas have been important laboratories for sensitization and orientation on child labour issues. Successful projects are adopted and replicated on a larger scale, and incorporated into mainstream programmes. For example, agencies responsible for large-scale programmes, especially for (ex-) child workers, have involved NGOs and CBOs through one or more stages from planning and design to implementation, monitoring and evaluation. This has enabled governments to benefit from the insights and experiences of NGOs and CBOs, and in turn, has allowed NGOs and CBOs to obtain a broader perspective on the challenges of implementing large-scale programmes.

Box 9.2. Strengths of NGOs and CBOs

· campaigning for the rights of children and the elimination of child labour, initiating media campaigns, providing documentation;

· conducting action research into issues related to child labour;

· providing direct services to children at risk and their families;

· providing technical support to other NGOs; and

· training (of welfare officers and legal professionals, for example), and building partnerships with other actors.