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Moving forward at the start of the new millennium

January 1, 2000 · 

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Published in the Child Workers of Asia

The beginning of this new millennium is a time of great hope for working children. The child labour issue has gained the attention of the world’s leaders and millions of the world’s citizens. Resulting from more than a decade of campaigns capped by the unanimous adoption of the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour in 1999, tremendous amounts of professional effort, time, and financial resources are now being allocated to combat the exploitation of child labourers.

It is a time of great challenge for Child Workers inAsia, as a network of NGO’s who have been ata the core of the grassroots work with chilkd workers long before the international community recognised the plight if child labourers.

CWA will pursue actions to help ensure that current gains in the global advocacy work on child labour are transformed inot concrete and lasting benefits for the present and future child workers.

CWA Programs Plans anmd Current Activities

At the 1999 CWA Regional Consultaiotn and subsequent discussions withpartners, the priorities for actions of the network for 1999-2002 were identified. The interventions will be in; bonded child labour, child migration and trafficking, child domestic work, children’s participation , research building in child centered programming, advocacy, and social mobilisation. Attention will be given to promoting greater understanding of the New ILO Convention among the NGO partners and in supporting local efforts for its ratification.

To foster collaborative action among partners and promote greater sharing of strengths and capacities, the main mode of implementation of the CWA program is through mobilising Task Forces on focused sub-regional actions. An Executive Board composed of CWA partners’ representatives directs the program of the network.

At present, the Task Force on Bonded Child Labour in South Asia child workers long before the international community recognised the plight is implementing a three-year action plan. The plan strives to strengthen the network of organisations (including children’s organisations) involved in CWA will pursue actions to help ensure that the struggle against bonded child labour, assist in current gains in the global advocacy work on child improving program strategies, raise public labour are transformed into concrete and lasting awareness, and, find solutions to the problem.

In the Mekong region (Thailand, Vietnam, laos, and Cambodia), the mekong Coordinating Committee on Migration and Trafficking of Women and Children (or Mekong Cord) is now operating with its own secretariat. The South Asian Task Force on Migration and Trafficking will soon program actions on migration and trafficking in South Asia.

The Task Force on Child Domestic Work plans to pursue local and international advocacy campaigns, staff exchanges and trainings that they started three years earlier. These programs have contributed to the present global awareness of the situation of child domestic workers, especially of girls.

CWA actions on children’s participation will develop the leadership potentials of child labourers and ftirther develop NGOs in facilitating sustained children’s participation in program implementation, management and advocacy. We are actively contributing to the Children’s Participation project of the Regional Working Group on Child Labour whose objective is to facilitate capacity building among adults (government, non-government and other members of civil society) in promoting children’s participation in actions on the worst forms of child labour.

A training workshop on Participatory Research with Working Children is being organised by CWA for the South Asian partners in May this year. It is hoped that a similar training can be facilitated among the South East Asian partners, early next year. CWA is intending to launch research to influence education reforms, programs on girl workers, interventions for children in agriculture, and the legal aspects of the child labour issue. Efforts shall be further exerted to promote publication of the views of child labourer’s themselves.

The Challenges

Even as international and regional actions take place, we are made humble by the knowledge that millions of children whom we are committing ourselves to are still working under sub-human conditions and are not yet reached by our efforts. We are called to use our best abilities, and transcend personal, organisational, and cultural differences and biases that keep us from pulling our forces together.

The roots of the child labour problem are formidable. Poverty, underdevelopment, internal armed conflicts, corruption in government, apathy of civil society, people who exploit poverty for profit, the growth of international crime syndicates, the massive breakdown of people’s sense of respect for human dignity and for the innocence of the children. Thus the message of the need for multisectoral, multi-dimensional approach, and coordinated response to the problem is often repeated. Ratification of relevant conventions, formulation and enforcement of appropriate legislation, conscienticising the business sector, rescue, rehabilitation, educational reforms, alternative responses to the livelihood issues, and organising work are all of great importance. The value of each intervention should not be underestimated but neither can each be effective as single interventions.

Child labour is related to migration and trafficking of women and children, development aggression in coastal and upland areas, unfair labour practices, the current world trade system, and the gaps in the educational systems. It is high time to mainstream child labour programs with the broad development efforts and human rights campaigns for sustainability. We have released that cooperation has to bw across national borders, even across continents.

A very positive sign in the current work on child labour is the increasing sensitivity to the importance of respecting children and creating an environment where children’s participation on decision making and on actions concerning them can be possible. The campaign conducted by the Global March Against Child Labour, illustrated that children have the capacity to positively influence the world view and can responsibly participate even in the highest levels of decision making. In many countries around the world children have shown that their active involvement, even leadership in programs can make the difference in ensuring that programs truly benefit children. Child labourers can present prudent responses to our dilemma such as the answer to the question whether children should be allowed to work.

Reaching the children, especially the hidden ones, is a challenge in creativity and perseverance but it is only the start. The larger part of the work begins once they are identified or rescued and are already under the care of the NGOs or the government social service sector.

In ways, attending to the exploited children is sharing in the parenting role for each child, and in instances where the parents are absent, the service providers are often regarded by the children as surrogate parents, consciously or unconsciously. The children’s needs are not merely material – food clothing, shelter, schooling. Children need affection, affirmation, and acceptance in order to gain their sense of self-confidence, trust, and hope.

A large number of child labourers are in their adolescent years, going through all the conflicts, and issues characteristic of this period. How effective are we in providing the supplemental parenting role that they need? Do we easily give up when they do not respond to us as we expect? Do we try to positively act in times of conflict with them so that they make the best decisions and actions possible? How do we handle failures? How long can we sustain support for each child?

While children are naturally resilient, the manner by which they are treated can make a lasting difference in their lives. Children’s effective participation can only happen when we have workers in the field who have the heart, the mind, and the skills to relate with children, with their families, with the community they are in. It takes effective and committed management, and adequate material resources to develop and maintain programs with such field workers.

The articles in this Newsletter describe the situation of Asian working children and child sexual exploitation at the turn of the century. While there are some improvements such as the decrease in the incidence of sexual exploitation of girls in Thailand, the general outlook remains grave. Children laid out of factories are shoved to the informal sector where they are more difficult to reach. In Cambodia, many children spend their childhood in garbage dumps. There are growing reports of commercial child sexual exploitation, and of children risking their lives in the fishing industry in Indonesia. In Sri Lanka, children are being trafficked and forced to participate in combat. In Pakistan, we hear the voices of children narrating their struggles and dreams.

Lastly, one writer reminds us of the urgency to tackle poverty. We will and we must, as this is an opportune time to work for change. Paradoxically, as the complexities of the world development issues increase, and the child labour problem become evident, the community of global citizens who are inclined towards honestly making the earth a place for children also expands. If we work together, then surely we can reach the goal.

Edelweiss F. Silan, CWA Coordinator

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