It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to Brasília and to Brazil. The Brazilian government and the Brazilian people hold you, our guests, in high regard and with warmth, as we all seek a common goal: the eradication of all forms of child labor. The III Global Conference on Child Labour has already successfully begun by gathering together more than 1,300 attendees from 153 different countries, 36 of which are ministerial-level representatives.
In attendance are 135 government delegations, 112 labor representatives, 63 representatives of employer confederations, 15 international non-governmental organizations, 40 local civil society representatives and 11 international institutions. In addition, there are 190 national and international press representatives. At the center of all of this is the Director-General of the International Labour Organization – ILO, Guy Ryder, who has strived to ensure that this Conference is well-represented.
I should thank the ILO, which has been an unrelenting partner of Brazil’s in the fight against child labor, and thanks also to the Ministries of Labor and Foreign Relations, whose collective endeavors have made it possible to host this outstanding event. It is important to communicate that since October, last year, a four-party organizing commission has been in place, which has established the political baseline for our Conference.
Starting in May, the International Advisory Committee has begun to operate with the participation of 37 countries, the ILO, the Inter-Union Commission, International Bodies, and in particular, the Global March Against Child Labour. We owe our thanks to these aforementioned groups for the intense mobilization and debates that have helped to produce the baseline document which serves as a guide, helping us to fashion the Charter of Brasília that is being discussed among the parties and that will also, in the end, renew our commitments to move forward.
It is a unique opportunity to renew the political and social dialogue, which must steer the international community’s actions, as well as each of our countries, to be democratic and inclusive. As a country that has always welcomed and presently welcomes all nationalities and all cultures, we invite you to turn this Conference into an open and optimistic event, and look ahead to the future we hope to build which is free from child labor.
CHILD LABOR: SUSTAINABLE ERADICATION
It is an honor to preside over this Conference and to be able to contribute to this debate. I wish to dedicate myself to the matter at hand: sustainable eradication of child labor, and in some cases, mention Brazil as a model in this effort. We have no doubt that it is the role of governments to take the lead in the design and implementation of policies and programs to eradicate child labor, taking heed, primarily, of the actions which are able to fight against the worst forms of child labor. However, we also know that we may not and must not take actions without the cooperation of our employer partners, workers and civil society organizations.
In the case of child labor, all actions that prevent, reduce, and fight against the issue, seem to me, to be helpful. Nevertheless, our job here is to discuss the sustainable eradication of child labor. We will approach the debate with an emphasis on sustainable solutions. We will value most those actions that will have everlasting effects on the root causes of child labor, ones that are able to change the determinants of causes and to reach the root of the problem.
In my opinion, the first element that defines a sustainable solution in the fight against child labor is its multi-dimensionality. We have to assert definitively that without a widened approach, we will not have lasting and effective achievements. This is not an easy, concept-driven issue. If we wish to make an impact, we must bring this to scale, widen the scope and identify the different players. In Brazil, for instance, it entails at least 5,570 townships. This must be our goal.
The second issue lies in the necessary actions on the part of the State. The State must be active. It is truly feasible to move forward in the fight against child labor, be it in times of economic crisis or during economic growth, by way of public policies backed by determined leadership. Brazil is proof of that. In 20 years, there has been a decrease of 88 percent in the number of children ages 5 through 9 being subjected to work. Over these 20 years, Brazil has experienced different conditions, from an economic standpoint. Child labor has been reduced both during times of economic stagnation and high unemployment, such as in the 1990s, and in periods of growth and increase in employment rates, just as Brazil has been performing since 2003. But, without decisive implementation of public policies we would have hardly made progress.
Bringing up this matter is fundamental, for this Conference takes place in a period of a dismal global economy. In several countries we see high rates of unemployment and precarious work conditions, and, once again, restrictive policies designed to pare public expenses are created as a solution. The crisis has been used to take a step back on social rights. However, we do not believe in paring down social program expenses as a way to come out of the crisis. This yields more crises, more stagnation and more exclusion.
There can be no long-term solution without the prospect of decent job opportunities and income generation. Misery is not the only cause for child labor, as asserted by President Rousseff, but it is one of its central determinants. Children are placed under situations of labor so as to supplement their families’ income or to make subsistence possible. This happens in poor countries, as well as in wealthy countries where there are persistent poverty constraints.
We come to a third strategic aspect of sustainable improvement with respect to child labor: inclusion policies and poverty eradication. I mention Brazil, once again, as it is facing the worldwide crisis, as another model. Since we have already attempted certain fixes, such as paring down expenses during the 1990s, we are aware that this does not lead to prosperity. The current Brazilian development model has inclusion as a focal point. Our model is underpinned in policies such as a better valuation of the minimum wage, registered employment, bolstering family agriculture, implementing social protection initiatives, such as the Bolsa Família program (Family Grant Program), and broadening access to public services. Even with more reasonable growth rates, we have accelerated the reduction of inequalities and seen an increase in the population’s income, especially for our poorest citizens. Additionally, unemployment is at the lowest point in our history.
Between 2000 and 2012, data from the International Labour Organization shows a reduction of 36 percent in child labor around the globe, among children between the ages of 5 and 14 years old. In the same period, Brazil had a decline of 67 percent for the same age group.
So far I have discussed three focal points which must be considered as we debate the sustainable elimination of child labor: a multi-dimensional approach, strong involvement by the State and poverty eradication.
In order to ensure a sustainable reduction trajectory, I would highlight the following strong measures needed for adoption:
Robust legislation with an emphasis and focus on the fight against child labor and one that ensures legal support for those who strive to enforce practices and exploitation of children and adolescents. In this sense, the ILOConventions are paramount references;
Produce data and statistics that allow for a reasonable diagnosis. Measures must be rooted in this diagnosis, including the impact of these actions from the perspective of the territories. Here, it is suitable to note that this “efficient” form of denying the existence of children and adolescent labor is not about obtaining data. Having statistical data allows us to establish clear objectives and have continual monitoring. Brazil is proud to have reliable and independently-driven data. Revealing the work conditions, getting children out of invisibility, is by itself a positive step forward;
Actions of repression and fiscal control of child labor. In this case, the action is centralized, but, if it is structured as a state policy, being a permanent and a continuing one, entailing coercion to child labor, this will certainly have an inhibiting effect on society as a broader set;
Establishing a Social Protection Floor for the families in poverty. ILO has been an advocate for this action. In Brazil, we have the Family Grant Program, which prioritizes the goal of reaching out to families with children, and treating differently those who have been helped out of child labor. This program works with the support of the Social Assistance Network and Eradication Program on Child Labor (PETI). I strongly advocate that the social floor be implemented with regard to school agendas. The results attained in Brazil are spectacular. Our children have a lower school dropout rate than the average public schools and have achieved the same performance levels;
Ensure the institutional space that allows the different players (government, workers, employers and civil society) to design policies, debate alternatives and specify local plans. Transparency provides the basis for making it possible that society improves the quality of its social controls, centrally focused on information that is available to all of those involved. There are different experiences; in some countries there are four-party commissions, in others there are forums and all of them are truly valuable. The most important aspect is to gather the players around the same table.
I have left aside, for a moment, the issue of education to be tackled later. Certainly, if we have to single out one issue as we talk about sustainability, it would be education:
Ensure access to it;
Ensure that education is offered;
Guarantee high quality education.
These are the great challenges for poor and developing countries. Such a successful strategy, but still an ongoing process in Brazil, is to match up Family Grant recipients with full-time schooling, making it possible for our most vulnerable children to stay in school longer; be better involved in the school environment; have better access to quality food; and be less vulnerable to work and violence.
Lastly, I find it paramount to mention the contemporary challenges in Brazil, which are surely experienced by youths of other regions around the world.
In Brazil, 80 percent of child labor is a reality among those over 14 years old, who go to school and live with families that have a per capita income of R$ 534 — equal to roughly U$ 270.
These adolescents have already searched for their spots. They have already gone after their adult life. In a way, traditional schools – the issue I am approaching – are schools with an old fashioned syllabus, those that are strict and do not incorporate participatory methodologies and have a lack of interaction, which is worsened in many cases due to night classes. Such schools are not interesting alternatives for our youth.
Our challenge, besides widening access to education, is to offer quality education, and to provide new and updated schools to our youth.
We strive to overcome technical and technological education so that our youth gain a better perspective in school and see a brighter professional future. But other connections must be built so that an increasingly more commercial and competitive environment does not lead our youth to enter the workforce before due time.
It is possible to celebrate much progress all over the world. But all of us here have a goal: we want more! The Conference which begins today is an opportunity for exchanging experiences, and, as we do not have to deliberate, we may debate not only about our successes, but also about what has not worked and thus avoid the traps that waste time and possibly dwindle the chances of our children and adolescents at a new future.
A warm welcome to all of you here, whether you come from a poor or a wealthy country, to share your knowledge so that together we can establish new breakthroughs on how to move forward in building a world where children and adolescents are not subjected to work. Where all of them have the right to study, play and dream of a better future.