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Interview with William E. Myers

09 Dec 2010
Child Labor and Human Rights
Q: Why is it important to frame the issue of child labour within a human rights perspective? A.: The rights of children include much more than just the rights that are specifically outlined in the CRC. The basic human rights which have to do with poverty and the ability to access society wholly are just as important to children as are the very specific rights that appear in the CRC. By including more rights as human rights that don't necessarily appear in the CRC, we are adding more resources to which children have access to keep them safe and open opportunities for them. Q: What role does the CRC play in addressing child labour? A: The CRC took what already existed as human rights and modified them to try to fit the specific situation of children. An example in the area of child labour as that it set up in article 32 a definition of the kinds of work that are not appropriate for children. You would not find this specifically in the human rights instruments. The CRC and other human rights do say that children should not be in work that violates a set of standards. For example, it shouldn't be damaging physically or mentally, it shouldn't keep them out of school. Neither should children below a certain legal age, usually 14 or 15, be working. There are specific situations in which children, even of legal age, should not be working. There are also legal, safe working situations for children over the age of 14 or 15. Human rights standards help to clarify these contexts. Q: Is combining work and school and acceptable option for children? A: There is a simplistic idea that if children work they are not in school and visa versa. In some cases, that is true, but in most cases, the majority of children who work, both boys and girls also either attend school, through at least the elementary levels where it's available, or if they don't go to school its usually for some other reasons than the work. There are countries and situations where children working prevents them from going to school. In these cases, we have to step in and do something about that. Q: What are some of the promising initiatives protecting children? A: There are many things that can be done. Very often, having the children's input so that you can really understand what their needs are and what they do so you get the full story makes it more likely that you can intervene in such a way that can be effective for them. When children are not involved or not adequately consulted, there's a long history of interventions that completely miss the mark and are either a waste of money and time or in some cases, have made children worse off. Q. How do we move forward ? A: This applies not only to child labor, but a lot can be gained by hooking children's rights to human rights. This can be done through different communities. The child rights community is a community - people who deal with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and know each other - but the human rights community are different people. And these two communities don't talk to each other very much but we think they have a lot to gain by working with each other. For example, the child rights community has really done a lot to advance the application of rights. A lot of the strategies used by UNICEF and our partners have come up with some very sophisticated ways of working to extend rights, to get them adopted by others, to talk government into moving on them. What has been done with child rights is to further the existing human rights agenda. On the other hand, we in the child rights community have a lot to learn from the human rights community. Because they have a lot of experience in making major advances. For example, in poverty, in major issues of crime… Some of the big human rights issues are contextual issues of politics, of economics that are hard to get to in a meaningful way from the child rights view, but in fact these large rights that are articulated as human rights can be moved on so there's every reason for both the human rights community and the child rights community to work together on trying to set both the background and the fundamental base of human rights and to advance through child rights through the CRC together.