Developing Child Labour Free Zones is a key to protecting children’s right to education

published 3 July 2023 updated 5 July 2023

“This fight against child labour is grounded in Education International’s belief that education is a human right,” described Pedi Anawi, regional coordinator of EI Africa. “We believe that no child should be left behind.”

Child labour prevents children from receiving the education they are entitled to. The online DC (development cooperation) Café held on 20 June outlined the strategic efforts taken by Education International and several member organisations and partners around the world to put an end to child labour.

Building Child Labour Free Zones

Child Labour Free Zones are areas such as villages that are committed to eliminating all forms of child labour. In these Child Labour Free Zones (CLFZs), teachers, local authorities, village leaders, employers, parents and children collaborate to get children out of work and into school.

During the DC Café, Anawi and Samuel Grumiau, an EI consultant who works to promote the elimination of child labour, described the commitment of education unions to developing CLFZs. Currently, education unions are contributing to the development of CLFZs in 12 countries across Africa, Asia, Europe and Central America.

When building a CLFZ, education unions first select the zone where the CLFZ will be implemented and perform a baseline study. After identifying a zone that would be appropriate for establishing a CLFZ, unions work with local authorities to receive approval for their project and seek out partnerships with other stakeholders.

The role of teachers and education support personnel

Once the project gains sufficient support from the local authorities and community, teachers and school directors receive training on how to identify and take action against cases of child labour. More comprehensive training is then given to focal point teachers, who will take the lead in their schools and communities.

The focal point teachers play a key role in integrating action against child labour into the community, such as by developing anti-child labour clubs that host awareness activities on the importance of education and dangers of child labour. These activities may include dances, plays, drawing or writing contests.

These teachers also play an important role in taking preventative measures to identify the children in their classrooms who may be the most vulnerable to dropping out.

Child Labour Free Zones in action

At the DC Café, Pilirani Kamaliza, Programs and CLFZ Project Coordinator of the Teacher’s Union of Malawi, and Matilda Zani, Head of the Legal Department at the Independent Trade Union of Education of Albania, spoke about the progress their communities have seen since starting CLFZs.

In Malawi, two outcomes of the CLFZ have been the development of community social dialogues and bylaws against child labour. The community social dialogues are strategies to continue raising awareness on issues of child labour and to stimulate parents’ interest in children’s education. They target all players and stakeholders in the community with these dialogues, including chiefs, church leaders, school authorities and businesspersons. The community bylaws were developed through these social dialogues.

“These bylaws are upheld by the entire community to ensure that all children are attending school in that particular area,” Kamaliza described. “Through these bylaws we have seen an increase in enrollment and reduced rate of absenteeism.”

The Albanian Education Trade Unions FSASH and SPASH have also had positive community outcomes from their projects against child labour. Zani described how paying attention to vulnerable students, such as those from the Roma community, has been important to ensuring that students return to school and avoid dropping out. Zani explained how “We try to identify each student's favourite subjects and interests. If a student is passionate about music or sports, we will try to promote this in the school’s activities. We also group children together to facilitate peer learning. In some schools, students mobilise to organise collections of clothes and food to give to children from poorer families.”

The results for communities

Trudy Kerperien, vice-president of the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), explained that the development of a CLFZ leads to a more conducive school environment, increased control over school absenteeism, and improved knowledge on children’s rights and understanding of child labour.

The training provided to teachers on the development of CLFZs also has had other benefits for communities. Kamaliza explained that in Malawi “Through this training we have seen our teachers give fewer penalties to the students. We promote joyful learning, and make sure teachers are friendly toward these children, so that when students go to school, they feel that they are welcomed.” In Albania, the efforts against child labour are estimated to have led to more than 2,800 children returning to school and 6,600 not dropping out.

EI intends to continue collaborating with member organisations and partners such as the Algemene Onderwijsbond (AOb), the German Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (GEW) Fair Childhood Foundation, and Mondiaal FNV to implement projects against child labour.

“We are trying to establish a social norm where everyone is convinced that child labour is unacceptable and that all children are entitled to quality, full-time education,” described Grumiau. Anawi continued, “The creation of child labour free zones creates an environment for all students to attend school fully.”

Strengthening education unions

Education unions become stronger when they unite with players and stakeholders in their communities in the fight against child labour. When education unions strengthen, the fight for quality public education moves forward.

The development of projects against child labour, such as CLFZs, has led to significant membership gains for education unions in targeted zones. It has also positively impacted education unions’ capacity and position in social dialogues.

Kamaliza has witnessed that “by promoting school education and constant school attendance by the learners, the general perception of the union by the public has changed. This has promoted public trust in teachers’ unions, unlike when we focus on issues of teachers only.”

He continued, “Our trainings on child labour also contribute to an increase of membership in our union and motivate teachers to join us. We see that the relation between our members and district education authorities has been enhanced following the implementation of such projects, and this has facilitated our advocacy on other teachers' issues.”