June 12, 2012: World Day against Child Labor

Today, June 12th, 2012, is the World Day against Child Labor.  Two years ago, the international community adopted a Roadmap for achieving the elimination of the worst forms of child labour by 2016.  On this day, the International Labor Organization (ILO) advocates:

  • Universal ratification of the ILO’s Conventions on child labor (including the Minimum Age  Convention, No. 138 and the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention, No. 182);
  • National policies and programs to ensure effective progress in the elimination of child labor; and
  • Action to build the worldwide movement against child labor.

The Minimum Age Convention requires member states to specify in their laws a minimum age for employment not less than the age of finishing compulsory education, which is no less than fifteen years of age.  This convention was later strengthened by the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, which calls for immediate measures to eliminate the worst forms of child labor or any work that is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.  International Labour Organization at 9, here.

Of 183 member states, 161 have adopted the Minimum Age Convention and 174 have adopted the Child Labor Convention. Ratifications of Fundamental Human Rights Conventions by Country. To this date, the US has not adopted the Minimum Age Convention, yet it has adopted the Child Labor Convention.    The United States Council for International Business provides this explanation for the failure to adopt Convention 138:

“Panel members have unanimously reached the conclusion that differences, inconsistencies, and conflicts exist between the requirements of the Convention and current Unites States law and practice…Although United States law and practice is in conformity with the requirements of Convention 138 in many respects, it appears that conflicts are presented in those areas of youth employment that are exempt or excluded from the application of the [Fair Labor standards Act] FLSA. Moreover, the fact that compliance with the requirements of Convention 138 would depend in part on widely varied state laws and regulations and possibly on remedial state action further complicates the process of determining and resolving the status of U.S. law and practice with respect to the convention. Accordingly, it is clear from the Panel’s examination and analysis that Convention 138 cannot be ratified without legislative and/or regulatory changes which will reconcile the differences between the requirements of the convention and existing law and practice.”

Under the FLSA, children under the age of sixteen working in non-agricultural employment in a business owned by their parents, may work at any time of the day and for any number of hours.  Exemptions from Child Labor Rules in Non-Agriculture.  Children under the age of sixteen, working in agriculture, may work in any farm job at any time.  Fact Sheet #40: Federal Youth Employment Laws in Farm Jobs.  Whereas, children fourteen and fifteen years of age may work outside school hours in non-hazardous jobs, children aged twelve and thirteen may work outside school hours on farms that also employ their parent, and children who are under the age of twelve may work outside of school hours with parental consent but only on farms which are not subject to the minimum age requirements of the FLSA. Id.

Historically, most working children are found in fields and farms – rather than in factories.  International Labour Organization, Bitter Harvest at 5.  Additionally, children – more often than not girls –  who are employed in agricultural work start at an earlier age and generally work more hours than their urban counterparts.  Id. at 6.  In the US, approximately 300,000 children work as laborers on commercial farms, and are frequently exposed to dangerous and grueling conditions.  Id. at 7.  Not surprising, working children account for 40% of all of the work-related fatalities in this country.  Id.

Adopting the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, but failing to adopt the Minimum Age Convention is unacceptable, especially given the work of the Bureau of International Labor Affairs  in Peru, Ethopia, Cote d’Ivorie and Ghana.  See here. Thus, the US should adopt the Minimum Age Convention, revise the FLSA and provide children within this country the opportunity to become educated and free from a cycle of poverty and harm.

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