|Action Against Child Labour (ILO, 2000, 356 p.)|
|2. Towards improved legislation|
"Although the fight against child labour will not be won through legislation, it certainly cannot be won without it. Child labour laws can play a catalytic and supportive role in efforts to establish a more humane order and in prodding society to give the child the best it has to offer."2
2 ILO: "Child labour: Law and practice", in Conditions of Work Digest (Geneva, ILO), Vol. 1, 1991.
The first questions to ask when faced with a working child are: Does the law allow the child at his or her age to engage in the activity and, if so, under what conditions? Is the authority of the State brought to bear on behalf of protecting the child? Through legislation, the broad aspects of national policy towards the elimination of child labour can be defined. The law alone can provide legal sanctions, where appropriate, for violators of the law and can create legal avenues of redress for victims. It can also point the way to and enable practical action to be taken to eliminate child labour.
Almost all countries have enacted legislation to deal with some aspects of child labour, such as setting minimum ages for work or, where children are legally permitted to work, specifying the conditions under which they may work. Many countries have set higher minimum ages for hazardous work. There are still shortcomings, however, especially in the coverage of many of the laws, which often exclude work in which children are engaged, such as in agriculture, domestic service, family undertakings and work in the informal sector. Legislative provisions might not meet international standards, which is a particular problem for countries that have ratified international treaties. Serious gaps in the application of laws also persist. Legislative commitments often lie dormant, sometimes due to lack of resources for effective monitoring and enforcement, sometimes due to lack of political will, but often simply because the authorities do not know how to tackle the problem of eliminating child labour, given the invisibility of many child workers and the fact that poverty, discrimination and cultural attitudes that foster it are so deeply entrenched in society.
There are also problems of another kind. Sometimes relevant legal provisions are so numerous and in different parts of the law that even those responsible for their enforcement can be confused. Legal provisions might be inconsistent with one another; for example, the age for compulsory education and the minimum age for work might not be in harmony. Finally, there might not be sufficient publicity given to information about the laws, especially to families, children and employers.
Box 2.1. The role of legislation
Legislation plays a fundamental role in a national policy on child labour. It can:
· set the principles, objectives and priorities of such policy and provide a conducive environment for the development of national institutional capacities to combat child labour;
· provide sanctions for violators.