Mr Palm's speech during the conference in the frame of the International Day against Child Labor organized by BKTF on 12 June 2013
We will be hearing the results of several studies, with the focus on child labor. About 30 or so years ago, the discussion about human rights and especially child rights was beginning to grab some attention. I remember that many people that time were wondering whether they would still be allowed to ask their children to help cleaning the dishes – it was quite an absurd discussion.
Thankfully, today we have the ILO conventions that clearly spell out what constitutes child labor. For those who are not familiar with this: child labor is when children under the age of 13 do any work; when children aged 14 or 15 work more than 14 hours per week; children aged 16 or above who work more than 48 hours per week; and any child that performs hazardous work or any other form of worst child labor, or any work that risks their physical, social, psychological or educational development. All of this is clearly defined and there is no room for interpretation or arguments.
The INSTAT/ILO study tells us that there are an estimated 35,000 children that are considered child laborers in Albania – of the type that is forbidden according to the Conventions to which Albania is a state party. I want to be very clear: there is no excuse for this.
I sometimes hear that this happens because of poverty or economic hardship or because of the special history of Albania and what not. But there is no excuse. I had the privilege to work in countries that were much poorer than Albania. While Albania is a middle income country, these were least developed countries, and yet the families and communities did not exploit their own children. Child labor is not a survival mechanism, it is a convenience for those who do not care adequately about children and those who fail to realize the very meaning of human rights and child rights. So, no excuse!
We will hear more details about the condition of working children in the presentations. But I want to particularly thank the civil society representatives for their contribution and continuous engagement on this. Child labor is a sensitive issue, and there always is a lot of resentment by certain communities or interest groups against doing something about it. There will be people that belittle the issue, or deny its devastating effects on children and the country.
Sensitive issues can only be resolved through broad based discussion and awareness, involving as many people as possible from all walks of life. So, my advice to authorities at central and local levels is to really take this as a constructive exchange – we are all pulling at the same line. We don’t want child labor and neither do you. Especially as child labor is an illicit phenomenon, everyone needs to be involved in making sure it is eradicated.
One word about street children. Street work for children qualifies as hazardous labor, which exposes children to risks of accident and difficult conditions. Albanian law is in principle good. But the study on child begging found that the laws alone do not make a difference. Interventions against child begging have been isolated, sporadic and ill-coordinated among different actors from the state and non-state sectors, including social services.
One reason is that street work is not considered formal employment. However, the Labour Inspectorate has a mandate and should monitor informal employment relations, including child labour in street situations, and take the necessary measures of intervention in all cases of violation of the employment legislation. We need to embrace the spirit of the Conventions, and those in responsible positions need to fully accept accountability – and be held accountable – for providing the solutions, including social support to the respective families so that children get off the street.
I like to mention the study on street children that SCF and UNICEF are about to conduct. The study will try to understand the magnitude of the problem and identify the elements of the child and family protection system that need to be reinforced. There is a strong link between the potential policy solutions and programmes addressing child labor to the ongoing social care services reform. Children on the street are coming from families that fell through the social safety net. We still have some way to go to ensure the social protection and child protection system work as expected, especially in respect of the functioning of social work. I am pleased that official commitment is obtained for this major reform. I trust that it will continue regardless the outcome of the elections. With the help of civil society, I am sure we can keep it on track.