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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


Pin Boonpala


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.

Types of NGO action

Local NGOs are in a good position to remain in close contact with working children and their families, to stay attuned to their needs, perspectives and viewpoints, to facilitate their active participation in identifying and solving their problems and assuming control over their lives. Some NGOs excel in developing and implementing projects that can serve as models to address child labour problems Much of their experience can be adapted and expanded through public programmes In addition, NGOs, through cooperation at the national, regional and international levels, engage in advocacy and mobilize for action against child labour

NGOs with differing levels of operational experience can also document and share knowledge, pool resources and know how with other public and private entities at local, national and international levels, and act as collective "child watchers" or vigilance groups, so that abuses or violations of child rights can be prevented or monitored, reported and sanctioned

NGOs also participate and contribute to ILO action against child labour For example, national level NGOs have been active partners in the implementation of IPEC in a number of ways First, NGOs are actively involved in the process of setting policy and a framework for implementation of IPEC country programmes When a country joins IPEC, the government is assisted in the preparation of a national plan of action against child labour, which is carried out through broad based consultation among government agencies, workers' and employers' organizations, and NGOs (see Chapter 1) At the implementation stage, the government is required to set up a National Steering Committee (NSC), which is composed of representatives of key government agencies, workers' and employers' organizations, and experienced national NGOs The NSC sets priorities for the implementation of programmes in line with the national policy on child labour. The NSC also selects and endorses action programmes to be supported financially and technically by IPEC.

NGOs in most countries are supported by IPEC to implement action programmes for the prevention of child labour, through, for example, awareness raising and assisting families and children at risk to find alternatives to child labour. In some countries, NGOs play a crucial role in the process of withdrawing children from hazardous work, and providing them with appropriate options and rehabilitation programmes, through non-formal education, counselling, health care and income-generation activities for the affected families.

IPEC has also supported activities of international NGOs in advocacy and research, such as the Global March against Child Labour (box 9.5), a survey of NGO views on the new ILO Convention (No. 182) on the worst forms of child labour, and the preparation of a handbook for research and action on child domestic workers by Anti-Slavery International.

NGOs also let their views be known on international standards that affect child labour; for example, in implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, NGOs comment on government reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. NGOs have also disseminated information and advocated for provisions in Convention No. 182, holding workshops and addressing the delegates in the Committee on Child Labour during the International Labour Conference.

Examples of NGOs in action

Box 9.3. Community action against child trafficking

In Nepal, IPEC has been supporting direct action by an NGO at community level. The NGO, Maity Nepal, has formed surveillance groups in the districts seriously affected by child trafficking and is carrying out campaigns with the help of college students and victims of trafficking. It has set up a prevention-cum-interception camp at an important transit point. The camp provides shelter, basic education and vocational training for girls who are at risk of being sold into prostitution, as well as for those who have been rescued. At the end of their training, the girls are helped in finding employment or setting up a small business. Another transit home is being set up at Kakkarvita, near the Nepal-India border, to provide shelter to girls who have been rescued from brothels in India and repatriated to Nepal.

Maity Nepal coordinates its activities with NGOs in India for the rescue and repatriation of victims, some of whom have been living in government-run homes for long periods of time. On the Nepalese side, it works with the police and other authorities for the rehabilitation of child victims and the prosecution of the offenders. The victims are often traumatized and many suffer from serious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, needing immediate medical attention and psychological counselling. The NGO plans to provide a wide range of rehabilitation services to help children regain their self-esteem and become self-reliant.

In Thailand, since 1992, IPEC has supported an NGO called Development and Education Programme for Daughters and Communities Center (DEPDC). DEPDC aims to prevent child prostitution and child labour by providing alternative education to girls at high risk of exploitation. These include children from families id extreme poverty, often with debts, children of tribal communities, children from broken homes and children of drug-addicted parents. Alternative education provided by DEPDC is a combination of formal and non-formal education and basic skills training. In addition, it has been raising awareness among parents and the community concerning the sexual exploitation of children, child labour and potential options that DEPDC and other organizations can provide to parents and children.

DEPDC has learned that, owing to the lack of education and abject poverty among rural and tribal communities, young girls in the North are easy targets for the trafficking movement. Through intervention by DEPDC and others, many of them are prevented from becoming victims of trafficking. While the DEPDC experience is very valuable, the problem is too complex for DEPDC to solve alone. The mobilization of other actors in the field is therefore one crucial action strategy to protect and prevent such children from entering the sex trade.

Box 9.4. Targeting child domestic workers

In the Philippines, a particularly successful project is being carried out by an NGO known as Visayan Forum. Because it is virtually impossible to make contact with child domestic workers, "Luneta Outreach Activities" was organized at Luneta Park, in Manila on Sundays, where child domestic workers gather. It has proved to be an effective way of organizing and providing direct services to child domestics. Launched with IPEC support in 1995, the project has achieved the following results:

· Children have been assisted to leave their abusive working conditions and reunited with their families or relatives.

· Basic needs of child domestic workers, such as temporary shelter, medical care, legal assistance, counselling, and schooling expenses, have been provided on a regular basis.

· Children have been enabled to support their peers and negotiate better working conditions.

· Many children have gained leadership skills and have been able to take part actively in advocacy and awareness- raising programmes, resulting in improved practice by employers, and a greater understanding of the situation by society and policy makers.

During the last two years, Visayan Forum has been able to consolidate and provide direct services to 1,500 child domestic workers and has also been successful in expanding operations in three more cities, tracing about 2,000 more.

The Forum has organized various consultations with the domestics themselves, human rights groups/institutions and legal practitioners to map out a common strategy to lobby for the adoption of the proposed House Helper Act.

In the United Republic of Tanzania, a Tanzanian association of women journalists and lawyers (TAMWA) took the lead in the child domestic workers prevention campaign, in response to concern over the growing number of girls under 14 recruited from rural areas to work as domestics in the cities of Dar-es-Salaam, Arusha and Mwanya. Over 4,500 girls in six urban centres have been reached by TAMWA. Girl domestics are paired with women domestic workers who offer them individual support and guidance.

The TAMWA centres are located at major crossroads where the girls are recruited. TAMWA contacts the girls upon their arrival in cities and provides them with basic assistance. The programme is also raising awareness among parents and institutions responsible for the welfare of children, religious bodies and women's groups. A multimedia awareness campaign was launched which included broadcasting the problem through radio programmes, producing and distributing pamphlets and cartoon booklets, and developing a video and a play for community theatre. Village-based seminars for parents and community leaders have exposed the harsh realities that can face girl domestics in towns and have contributed to a sharp decline in recruitment of young girls from rural areas.

Box 9.5. The Global March against child labour

To promote worldwide action against child labour, a Global March was initiated by NGOs, in collaboration with workers' organizations, between December 1997 and June 1998. This global campaign involved an alliance of 350 organizations in 82 countries. It aimed to mobilize worldwide efforts to protect the rights of all children, especially their rights to receive free, meaningful education, to be protected from economic exploitation, and to be freed from performing any work that is likely to be damaging to their physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

Global March campaigns were organized at national and international levels in different continents starting in Asia in January 1998 and continuing in Latin America, Africa, North America and Europe. The March converged on Geneva at the time of the International Labour Conference (ILC) in June 1998.

Core marchers were joined by other marchers in the participating countries. Activities in these regions included thousands of people demonstrating against child labour, cultural events, such as theatre performances and concerts, and core marchers meeting with local officials. In Geneva, there were community activities and the March delivered its message to the delegates of the ILC and expressed support for the ILO's proposed new Convention on the worst forms of child labour (adopted in June 1999).

The Global March was received at ILO Headquarters by the ILO Director- General, and by ILO delegates. A Global March sculpture depicting child labour and children's rights to education was unveiled in the ILO grounds.

A round table meeting was organized, attended by marchers, ILC delegates and representatives of NGOs. A press conference was also organized.

Again in 1999, Global March activities took place in Geneva before and after the ILC in June. These included an international workshop in which former working children and their families discussed the reality of the worst forms of child labour, and their views on effective measures which had been or could be implemented. They presented the conclusions of the workshop to Ruth Dreifuss, President of the Swiss Confederation, Juan Somavia, Director-General of the ILO and Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Global March children also presented a dramatic interpretation of their plight to Conference delegates through mime. An exhibition graphically illustrated the lives of children in the worst forms of child labour.


The role and participation of NGOs in action against child labour in different countries varies depending on political culture and tradition. The quality of NGO involvement also depends on their experience and maturity. In some countries, NGOs have been criticized for inadequate administrative and management capability, leading to non-sustainability of operations. Their insufficient resource base means that they can only continue their programmes as long as there is internal or external support. However, mature and well-established NGOs survive changes in political systems, continue to receive public support and have effectively worked towards the elimination of child labour. Some of the lessons learned from NGO action against child labour are:

· NGOs, particularly those implementing their activities at community level, are able to mobilize community awareness and action against child labour. Strong community participation can lead to prevention of the problem and long-term sustainability of action.

· Many NGOs have practical experience in creating alternatives for families at risk and disadvantaged groups in society, such as income-generating activities, setting up of cooperatives and community-based savings groups, literacy programmes for adults and children, provision of legal aid, family counselling, and so on. This experience is relevant and can be applied in direct action against child labour. Indeed, NGOs in many countries are doing so.

· Awareness-raising and advocacy are important strategies and NGOs often have experience and skills in conducting awareness-raising campaigns.

· Capacity building through, for instance, training programmes on various aspects of development and implementation of action against child labour, is required to assist the effective operation of NGOs.

· For greater effect, NGOs also coordinate and network their activities with others, including government bodies, workers' and employers' organizations, media, universities, the judiciary system, parliamentarians, and so on.