Formal education and the prevention of child labour

There is a need to develop an integrated policy and programme of action worldwide to provide quality, universal and free education that is relevant and accessible to children of poor families to which the majority of child labourers belong. Child labour concerns should be explicitly addressed and integrated into such a policy. A holistic approach to education is necessary. In addition, quality education must not stop at primary level if young people are to be adequately prepared for the labour market and for decent work within it, rather than being confined to low-skilled, unprotected jobs in the informal economy.

Experience has shown that providing basic literacy and numeric skills through non-formal education does not guarantee that children will be permanently withdrawn from work, which is why mainstreaming these children into formal education systems is vital. Furthermore, investments in basic education normally only reach the more privileged social groups, whereas efforts should be spread more evenly, focusing more on children at risk. Social exclusion mechanisms are another strong factor that keep children out of school and push them into work.

There is a need to give priority to the expansion of public educational systems to accommodate the numbers of children who still do not have access to school. This means that:

  • More schools need to be built, teachers need to be recruited and trained and educational materials need to be made available.
  • Alternative approaches need to be developed to provide for the education of children when geographical conditions pose obstacles or the community’s lifestyle involves mobility.
  • The formal and non-formal education systems need to be linked in a more systematic manner to allow for easier transitions from the non-formal to the formal sector, and both systems need to be improved and upgraded in many countries.
  • School admission and retention policies should facilitate the entry or re-entry of children into schools by providing alternative placement options and independent learning approaches with adequate guidance and support for over-aged children or children who re-enter school.

A substantial increase in the availability of public education in rural areas at the pre-primary, primary and secondary levels will diminish the pressure and existing congestion in schools in the urban centres where poor families migrate in search of both jobs and educational opportunities for their children.

In many cases, children in the worst forms of child labour belong to the lowest strata of society in terms of ethnicity and culture. In this regard, IPEC is working in collaboration with the ILO's INDISCO programme and ILO PRO 169 in order to understand better how these exclusion mechanisms affect the education of indigenous and tribal peoples and to develop models to counteract them. These models can then be adapted and replicated in various countries. ILO PRO 169 is the Project to Promote ILO Policy on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples which operates at the policy level. It aims to promote the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, encourage dialogue on the issues affecting them and to build the capacity of these peoples to promote and protect their own rights. IPEC is working with PRO 169 to establish the close links between indigenous children, child labour and education.

Further IPEC action against child labour through education training focuses on the following key areas:

  • Enlisting the support of teachers, educators and their organizations;
  • Replicating good practices in formal and non-formal education;
  • Establishing Education Task Forces;
  • Education of girls;
  • Mainstreaming education in IPEC’s Time-Bound Programmes (TBPs);
  • Investing in Early Childhood Development programmes;
  • Educating children and their families on children’s rights and child labour.