Michel Gozo is the head of the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Ethiopia. Here he tells IRIN of the fight against the worst forms of child labour such as prostitution and why poverty reduction goes hand in hand with protecting against abuse.
QUESTION: What work are you doing in Ethiopia?
ANSWER: We are very active in the labour legislation and civil service reform. Ethiopia, as you know, is in democratic transition so this activity is very important. We also have activities to strengthen the institutional capacity of our social partners in promoting social dialogue in the context of the poverty reduction strategy paper. We also have some operational activities targeting women entrepreneurs and developing rural roads and promoting social protection.
Q: What is child labour?
A: The convention is very clear on that. We are more concerned with the worst forms of child labour. People like to make the distinction between child work and child labour. The issue is the 'worst'. Those forms are well documented – prostitution, forced labour, child soldiers.
Q: How serious are the worst forms of child labour in Ethiopia?
A: From the data we have, the number of children engaged in economic activities aged below 14 is estimated at 7.5 million - which represents about 49 percent of the total population of that age group. This isn’t the worst form but that gives an idea of the scale in the country. We don’t have the detail when you talk about child prostitution, or child soldiers or forced labour. But the government is very much aware that those are issues they need to tackle as soon as possible. Now the major priority is street children...
The major factor fuelling the worst forms of child labour is poverty. And when you have unemployment here of around 25 percent, the parents themselves sometimes force their children into this as a survival strategy. So you can see living in Addis Ababa there are a lot of children living on the streets and there is child prostitution.
Q: How is HIV/AIDS impacting on child labour?
A: If you relate child labour to HIV/AIDS it has an economic impact and is fuelling poverty, a loss of skills for the economy, a decline in productivity, absenteeism, increased health care expenses. If you bring it to the household level you have more single families, families where the mother has to take care of the whole family, then you have push factors that bring children to the labour market earlier. You have orphans who do not have the economic support that they used to have. From that angle you can see that because HIV/AIDS is becoming a push factor aggravating poverty, then definitely it also is becoming a push factor aggravating the worse forms of child labour.
Q: What role does the ILO play in ensuring rights protecting children are enforced?
A: In this case there is a lack of capacity in implementation some of these rights, so on the side of the ILO it is here to play an advocacy role and create awareness among society at large of these rights in order to enforce these rights. There is a lack of awareness among the population at large. We are playing an advocacy role as well as capacity building. It is not just Ethiopia facing that gap between the legal instruments and enforcement. It is a global issue especially in the developing world. We have to show that if they ratify laws there is going to be some positive impact on the growth of the country...
We can’t achieve anything without other social factors; we just reflect what these people want. We have an ILO mechanism to protect these rights and a government like Ethiopia can be called to account, employers can complain, the workers can complain. We can go as far as suspending a country. We have some sanctions, mechanisms.
Q: How does a country like Ethiopia gain from enforcing these standards?
A: When you take the issue of child labour, they go early to the labour market without education, without skills. The contribution of these children to development is very marginal. If s/he is given the opportunity to acquire some skills and basic education, then the contribution of the same child to the economy of Ethiopia will be considerably greater.
Q: Isn’t your work negated because people are so poor that have to work regardless?
A: Unless you tackle poverty you will not get anywhere in terms of labour law, enforcements and rights. We fully acknowledge the major challenge is poverty. But ultimately if there are no incentives, economic incentives, to enforce those laws. It is a waste of time because the parents will still send their children to the labour market. That is why it is important to put the campaign and ratification of the core conventions on the worst forms of child labour in the context of the poverty reduction strategy. The two have to be correlated, otherwise it is a waste of time.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions