Child Labour

By Prof. Dr. A. Gurhan Fisek

In 1776, one of the initiatives of the human rights conventions, the Virginia Declaration of Rights was adopted by the Virginia Constitutional Convention in USA. It does not mention anything about the child labour rights and working environments.

In 1789, the well-known Universal Declaration of the Human and Civic Rights was adopted in France. It does not mention anything about the child labour rights and working environments, either.

Even so, during this period in which Industrial Revolution was on the ascent, children were broadly employed in various European countries, first of all in England. Sismondi was talking about the “interruption of generations”.1Without hiding anything, various researchers (physicians) wereputting forth the working conditions for consideration and the factthat both children and women were part of the labour force.

Percival Pott (1714-1788) was first to describe the scrotum cancer cells which occurred among chimney sweeps due to their cleaning the soot and other residue from chimneys and fireplaces. During that period, it was the child workers who were employed for cleaning the chimneys.

Thomas Percival (1740-1804) led the group of physicians in order to carry out researches on typhus, which was a widespread social problem and which wiped out the labour force at that period in England. He disseminated both this call-up and the report on children’s working hours and conditions even to the relatively distant regions.

Besides, many researches realised by the physicians of the age put forth the absolute necessity and urgency in regard to the protection of child labourers. Passed by the English Parliament in 1802, the “Health and Morals Act for the Apprentices” was one of the outcomes of such efforts. The sentences coming into effect with this Act give us an opportunity to elaborate the conditions in which child workers were employed at that period. As required by the Act, it was determined that:

  1. No apprentice should be kept at work more that 12 hours a day;
  2. No apprentice should be kept at work at nights;
  3. If apprentices are boarding employees, an employer is required to keep the apartments of male and female apprentices distinct;
  4. Apprentices should be supported in regard to their learning how to read and write;
  5. Apprentices should receive two suits of clothes each year.

    Now we are in the 2000’s. Child labour problem is still persisting. Moreover, the studies on that matter are lesser in amount than the ones of the 19th century. Yet, what designates the fate of child workers is the researches and directing enterprises realised on that matter.

    In 1989, during the process in which Child Rights Convention has been ratified, the group that was summoned to the meeting by the Ministry of State brought up significant principles to be considered:

    Child labour problem cannot be eliminated unless radical transformation would be realised in economic, social and cultural spheres;

    Insistent pressures on that matter would make children to be in more vulnerable conditions;

    Delaying children’s involvement in working life, it is one of the most important measures that compulsory education period should be raised to 8 years;

    In order to assist children to acquire work-related skills, work-related and technical lessons should be taught in the primary schools and applicable courses should be arranged.

    In order to make reliable policies on child labour problem, a regular monitoring committee should be formed for the sustenance of co-ordination, and etc.

    Children working in the agricultural sector are vulnerable and unprotected both in terms of health risks and social security issues. Therefore, necessary legal arrangements on that matter should be materialised before all else.

    Although many years have passed and Turkey has ratified the Convention, the application guide in which the above mentioned sentences taken place has not even been touched upon.

    Carried out by Fisek Institute in 1985 and supported by Meawards accordingly, the research on the “Medico-social Problems of Child Workers” was the first comprehensive study dealing with the industrial child workers. The facts collected throughout the study were represented in various articles and congress papers.

    Child labour is still one of the major problems in Turkey. However, child labour is not a one-dimensional problem. On the one hand, employers consider cheap and docile labour necessary; on the other hand, people necessitate child labour in order to get rid of poverty and insecurity. Furthermore, one can observe a tendency of the public power to avoid and break the social policies.

    All of these make the elimination of child labour difficult, and delay the solutions. It can be considered that the studies on child labour can be treated under two steps, as long-term and short-term objectives:

    LONG-TERM OBJECTIVE: Elimination of child labour… Without underscoring the economic conditions, radical transformations (social foresights) are required by means of presenting the conditions in which children are employed, presenting the future situation and the probable problems.

    SHORT-TERM OBJECTIVE: Until the long-term objectives are totally attained, health-related and social precautions are required to be taken in order to diminish the problems of child workers. These are the model studies at first, then the precautions urgently widespread at the national scale. Before the elimination of the factors that push children to be involved in working life, the small-scale solutions should be preferred that are also narrow in scope.

    During these days, in which human rights issues are widely discussed, children, whose families are not provided with opportunities to meet their basic needs and whose life standards are not raised to the ones of the urban conditions, go into the working life without attending to their schools.

    As that point, the society has a debt of loyalty for the working children whose ties with the formal education are severed; who work as a full-time employee at the industrial regions; and who struggle for guaranteeing their today and tomorrow. Because, they are not provided with occupational formal education opportunities that are strengthened through the opportunities to find a job.

    With respect to the studies on the situation of child workers in working life, first sine qua non evaluation is the evaluation of their “compatibility with the job” in which they are employed. There three major points indicating whether children are compatible with the job or not.

    1. Volunteerism in regard to starting to a job;
    2. Frequency of changing their jobs and the reasons behind;
    3. Inclination for returning back to school.

    Children, in general, start to be involved in working life voluntarily. However, as time passes, their desire to return back to school becomes intensified; and if they are dissatisfied with their jobs, the risks they would face and their uneasiness increase in line with the increase in the number of jobs they’ve changed.

    Another essential evaluation concerning the child labour problem is the one related with their working environment. Insofar as their age is concerned, they are much more sensitive and fragile physiologically; and hence, working in inconvenient conditions has significant implications both with respect to their health and future, and to their future kids’ health and future.

    We may appropriate working condition evaluations for the two scale of analysis:

    1. Working on the Basis of Legal Working Hours “Appropriated for the Adult Workers”.
      1. Daily
      2. Weekly


    1. Complying with the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations “Appropriated for the Adult Workers”
      1. Health and Security Regulations that are Commonly Implemented or not Implemented;
      2. Occupational Health and Safety Indicators

    For this evaluation, it may be found strange at the first sight that as a criterion, we adopt the regulations “appropriated for adults”. However, if one carefully scrutinises about the facts presented, s/he may see that in Turkey, the health and safety regulations are not fully implemented at workplaces, even for adults.

      1. Working on the Basis of Legal Working Hours “Appropriated for the Adult Workers” (Daily)

        With reference to the first research (1985), it has been found out that only 5,3 % of the working children among 15 and less than 15 years old participants is worked in accordance with the legally determined working hours. This rate rises to 24,8 % among children more than 16 years old. Another research realised 10 years after (1995) has shown that in Ankara, the rate of working children employed according to the legally determined 7,5 hours daily basis (and less) is only 3,9 %. On the other hand, in Istanbul, there has not been encountered with any child worker employed according to these hours. Therefore, all the participant working children are worked more than the law requires.

          1. Working on the Basis of Legal Working Hours “Appropriated for the Adult Workers” (Weekly)

        When the child workers’ working hours are investigated on a weekly basis, it is observed that in Ankara 7,3 % and in Istanbul 11,8 % of child workers are employed according to the 45 hours limit (or less) appropriated for the adult workers.

        Working hours are the important indicators of to what extent workers are provided with social rights (hence an appropriate level of income); and these rates inform us on the approaches towards workers (hence, child workers).

        2. Complying with the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations “Appropriated for the Adult Workers”

        In the Labour Law and related regulations, one group of regulatory principles are related with”occupational health and safety regulations”. On that matter, we are to present some findings from two separate researches defining the working environment of child workers.

        The first study has appropriated two distinct criteria. One of these is the generalhealth measures. Among the workplaces counted in this study, 61,1% of them has taken the one tenth (or less) of the basic generalhealth measures to be taken. In regard to these measures, only 2,2 %of the workplaces has taken the one tenth (or more) of them.

        The second criterion is the work-related special health measures. For this criterion, it has been aimed that each and every work requires to be evaluated with reference to the specific risks unique to that work. Other than indicating necessary measures taken by the employers, this criterion renders both employers’ more consciously concerning with the work and the expert-supported enterprises indispensable. Among the workplaces involved in this study, 51 % of them has taken the one tenth (or less) of the special health measures. In regard to these measures, only 11,8 % of the workplaces has taken the on tenth (or more) of them.

        These facts demonstrate that workplaces are insufficient in regard to their taking health measures. Similarly, it is deduced that work-related special measures are not implemented even at the same level.

        Concerning the second study, a ten sectioned criterion has been appropriated with reference to thelist developed by the European Council, Occupational Health andSafety Commission. This criteria (Occupational Health and SafetyWorkplace Indicator) has been composed of 5 points listed in adescending order from the best to the worst. In this evaluation,workplaces employing children of 15 years old and under has scored2,3 point, while small-scale workplaces not employing any childworker have scored 2,5. With reference to the same criterion, thefour big industrial organisations of Turkey have taken 4,2 point atleast.

        Occupational Health and Safety Workplace Indicator shows variations on the basis of sectorial differences. For example, the score is relatively high for the sectors like machine industry, which requires high investment and advanced technology, long-term production strategies, and qualified and resolute labour force.

        The scale of a workplace has an effect over the results as well. It has been observed that working conditions become worse as the number of workers decreases. If we consider the fact that child workers intensify at small-scale workplaces, we may consider the extent of the problem as well.

        As it is seen, children are worked in inconvenient and unhealthy environments.

        Not getting their share of the taxes they pay to the state in contrast to their non-working coevals, child workers deserve a better life. And this should be realised urgently.

        With reference to these points, Fisek Model, dreams for better health and safety services and better working environments, which are:

        1. universal;
        2. updateable;
        3. repeatable;
        4. giving a preference to the elements that are legally compulsory for the employers;
        5. maintaining its positions with its own financial resources (sustainable);
        6. providing the necessary services that are socially desired and expected.
        7. giving a preference to participatory actions.

        This dream is composed of a “mobile clinic” (mobile unit) through which small-scale workplaces are visited, a “school health centre” that is to be established at the Apprenticeship Education Centres, a “health centre/connection centre” and an “occupational health and safety exhibition house” that are to be established in the regions where these services are provided.

        These services are still regarded as dreams for the majority of society; yet, the dreams come true for the child labourers working at some industrial regions in Ankara and Denizli.

        Fisek Institute presents a model with its experiences accumulated since 1976, if we are to take into an account the preparatory studies of the foundation as well. This model is in compliance with the community medicine approach and its principles.

        One of the most important accents of this model is urgency. Children rapidly grow up and become adults; and this brings about the necessity that the necessary precautions should be put into practice as soon as possible (urgently). Long-term objectives are crucial and indispensable; yet, the short-term ones are unavoidable as well. Girls are going to be married in 3-4 years time, while boys doing their military services in 5-6 years time. For this reason, we should do all we can urgently.

        Fisek Model presents various firsts in Turkey’s conditions; yet it bears the “firsts” and “originalities” at the world scale as well. With the purpose of providing health services for small-scale enterprises, Fisek Institute has been the first in regard to its enterprises on sustaining the clasping efforts of these enterprises. Nowadays, these small-scale enterprises (200 in Ankara and 60 in Istanbul) are reached through the mobile clinics (mobile unit) regularly; and occupational health and safety services are provided under the scope of shared health units at workplacesThe service chain has been still carried out uninterruptedly and inan improving way. And these services have become self-sustainingthrough the contributions of the employers. Another first isthat the matter has been treated by considering all the threedimensions at once: health, safety and social dimension. Until thattime, there has not been any application that embraces all of thesethree aspects together and that foregrounds the community medicineapproach.

        Fisek Model differs from its counterparts with the following characteristics:

        1. An accent on children and youth: Children and youth, due to various reasons, are forced to be involved in working life. For this reason, they should be able to utilise from these services favourably and mostly.
        2. An accent on womanhood identity: Being involved in male-dominant working life at an early age and withdrawn from that life when getting married, girl child workers are among the privileged and important groups of working life. The problems of this group cannot be treated by abstracting the matter from gender inequalities, their status in a given society, their occupational education levels and their social assurances, hence from their rights.
        3. An accent on occupational health and safety: Treated with a multi-disciplinary perspective, the studies on occupational health and safety issues have an impact on the improvement of working environments of the small-scale workplaces. Occupational health and safety appears both as a an important mean and end. It is in order to attain a workplace that is modern, respectful to human rights and complying with the productivity and quality standards and in which healthy workers are being employed.
        4. An accent on social dimension: Health does not only come to mean a physical and psychological well-being, but also the social one. In regard to the services provided for (child) workers, it is not possible to get the necessary results by abstracting these services from the social foresights. For this reason, both services and individuals should be treated in the context of social bonds.
        5. Continuous state of flux and social participation: The model shows an updateable structure that improves itself continuously. For these updates and improvements, both the Institute members and the contributions and suggestions of people provided with our services have an important place.
        6. Self-sufficiency for overcoming the resource problem: One of the most important problems of social studies is the risk of impermanence. Quality studies should not be ephemeral. For this to be achieved, financial self-sufficiency is one of the solutions. As you see, this model creates its own resources by itself and sustain its permanence by the revenues provided in return for services.
        7. Wide-spreading the model and organisation around equal principles at the national scale: After Ankara experience, this model has been applied in Istanbul as well. It has been realised that successful results can only be attained as the model is carried out in compliance with the above mentioned principles. Operating around the same principles, “occupational health and safety” units should be widespread rapidly at the industrial regions. It is the debt of society to be paid back not only to the child workers but also to the producers.

        We wish that we would form the necessary environment in order to eliminate the child labour problem as soon as possible and foreground the young workers as the target group of our studies.