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The International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) is a program established by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 1992 and currently operates in 88 countries (“About the International Programme”, n.d.). The objective of the program is the prevention and progressive elimination of all forms of child labour, with a priority placed on the worst forms of child labour as defined in ILO Convention No.182. The programme’s framework is also based on the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and Convention No.138 concerning the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment (ILO, 2004). This paper will provide an overview of how the IPEC operates, evaluate its impact, effectiveness, limitations and conclude with a discussion on the future of IPEC and child labour.
Overview of IPEC
Within the ILO, IPEC is the largest single, technical cooperation programme, having a 37.4% share in ILO’s total technical cooperation (ILO, 2006). The rationale behind establishing IPEC is the severe consequences caused by child labour. A main consequence of child labour is that it inhibits children from accessing education, hence perpetuating the poverty cycle which in turn impacts national economies (Hindman, 2014). Moreover, the net economic benefits to the global elimination of child labour and its replacement by universal primary and lower secondary education over the period of 2000 to 2020 are an estimated US$ 5.1 trillion in the developing and transitional economies (ILO, 2003). Costs, on the other hand, fall at roughly US$760 billion.Therefore, there is evidently a strong economic rationale for the elimination of child labour.
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In its operation, the IPEC partners with numerous external stakeholders including governments, employers, workers, non-government organizations (NGOs) and teachers. IPEC programmes and projects are executed with great emphasis on solid design, monitoring and evaluation processes (“Design and Evaluation”, n.d.). Furthermore, IPEC also conducts impact assessments to measure the long-term impact of their child labour interventions. IPEC executes multiple projects and programmes, such as IPEC country programmes, time-bound programme (TBP) support projects and thematic projects (ILO, 2004). IPEC country action programmes typically involve activities and interventions that are part of a larger IPEC programme tailored to the specific country (Thomann, 2008). Activities include direct action in which child labour in specific communities are removed or rehabilitated (ILO, 2000; ILO, 2002), education, institutional development, policy development, and other support services which are mostly implemented by local NGOs (Thomann, 2008). TBPs are implemented in specific countries under a short, defined timeframe to eliminate the worst forms of child labour in those countries (“Time-bound programmes”, n.d.). National ownership is key to IPEC TBP support projects (ILO, 2006). IPEC supports TBPs by providing comprehensive frameworks to be utilized by governments (Nogler & Pertile, 2016). Thematic and sectoral projects can be implemented at national, regional and global levels, such as the South-South Cooperation that promotes decent work in cotton-producing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America (“South-South Cooperation”, n.d.). Ultimately, the goal of IPEC’s programmes are to strengthen governments and civil society in their fight to end child labour (Nogler & Pertile, 2016).
In addition to designing, evaluating and executing their own programmes and projects, IPEC also creates the tools they have developed and applied available to their partners. These tools are generalized to target projects eliminating child labour, not specifically to IPEC activities (“Design and Evaluation”, n.d.). Furthermore, IPEC’s function also involves assisting partners in advocacy work, awareness-raising, statistics and research (Nogler & Pertile, 2016). IPEC research and interventions provide the foundation of their knowledge centre (ILO, 2004).
Evaluation of IPEC
Despite a multitude of international and local initiatives in abolishing child labour, statistics still reveal high prevalence of child labour across the globe. In 2016, global estimates found that approximately 152 million children aged 5-17 years were in child labour, where 48% of these children were aged 5-11 years (ILO, 2017). Although this has been a significant decline from the 246 million figures in 2000, the pace of decline has slowed down over the years (ILO, 2014). For example, between 2012-2016, the number of children in child labour was reduced by 16 million. Meanwhile, there was a decrease of 47 million children in child labour in the 2008-2012 period – almost three times the reduction in the 2012-2016 period (ILO, 2018). These results illustrate that although we have made tremendous progress in eradicating child labour, recent efforts may not be as effective.
Impact and Effectiveness
It should be noted that considering the size and complexity of the programme, it is difficult to isolate and measure the true impact of IPEC from other potentially influential factors such as economic and educational progress. Furthermore, the term impact according to IPEC refers to the longer-term effects of the various efforts done by IPEC on the elimination of child labour (ILO, 2004). IPEC is currently still in the process of developing an impact assessment methodology and thus has been unable to accurately measure its long-term impact (“Impact assessment and tracer studies”, n.d.). Nonetheless, the effectiveness and outcomes of IPEC can and have been evaluated albeit in short-term time frames.
Generally, studies have illustrated positive outcomes of IPEC across regions such as Africa and South America. Nogler and Pertile (2016) found that almost all African nations have demonstrated efforts in eliminating the worst forms of child labour under IPEC guidance. Since the launching of IPEC in Mali in 2001, approximately 2,807 children have been removed from exploitative work (Nogler & Pertile, 2016). Specific programmes such as IPEC’s Project of Support to Tanzania’s TBP have also generated positive outcomes, where IPEC helped establish effective collaboration with other international agencies, supported and facilitated existing local structures and boosted the development of local child labour committees (ILO, 2006). In South America, IPEC’s direct action programme which focused on priority sectors such as commercial sexual exploitation has benefited over 60,000 children in 2004 (Nogler & Pertile, 2016).
Case studies of various countries have demonstrated IPEC’s effectiveness in developing strategies to address child labour in line with national, government and social partners’ capacities (ILO, 2004). On a national level, IPEC has been effective in developing the foundation for launching more child labour-related projects. IPEC’s knowledge management efforts have also generated positive results, where national stakeholders recognize the quality and usefulness of IPEC surveys (ILO, 2004). In addition, IPEC’s efforts have been directly attributed to an increase in awareness of child labour forms and causes in case countries (ILO, 2004).
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Evaluating IPEC’s various works on a global level has also revealed positive evidence. In 2004, an independent global evaluation of IPEC was conducted for the 1998-2003 period, which found that direct action programmes were effective (ILO, 2004). Moreover, IPEC has made substantial achievements in advocacy efforts and social mobilization, as seen in increased references to child labour in international policies, political commitment and action. Media and campaign materials had been effective and timely. For example, the Red Card to Child Labour campaign that was first launched to draw attention to the use of child labour in the football stitching industry was ultimately expanded to other sports (“Red Card”, n.d.). Additionally, a review of 165 IPEC projects revealed that communication activities had a positive impact on households’ attitude towards child labour (ILO & Understanding Children’s Work, 2010).
Limitations and Challenges
Despite the positive outcomes successfully generated by IPEC, there are shortcomings to the programme and ILO’s overall efforts in eliminating child labour. In some regions, technical cooperation is underdeveloped for many reasons such as lack of resources and funding (Nogler & Pertile, 2016). Critics have often highlighted the relatively low number of projects that target the agriculture sector, which is concerning since this sector consistently employs the largest number of child workers (ILO, 2006). Furthermore, case studies have illustrated the limited extent of IPEC’s sole impact without effective collaboration with international donors and development agencies that target eliminating child labour as an aim of education initiatives (ILO, 2004). Moreover, the lack of sanctions from international donors makes it challenging to achieve integration of TBP elements into poverty reduction strategies at the national level (ILO, 2006).
IPEC’s dependency on national partners and agencies has, to an extent, restricted it from optimum implementation at national levels. Some national partners and agencies consider the pace set by IPEC programmes overly ambitious (ILO, 2004). This is in part due to the limited capacity and resources of these national partners and agencies. Although government-led child labour initiatives are present in many nations, implementation is difficult to achieve without an improvement in national capacities, resources and commitment (ILO, 2004). Apart from capacity limitations, another reason why IPEC’s efforts may not lead to the most desired results can be attributed to implementation challenges in specific regions. For example, implementing IPEC projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been difficult due to security problems (ILO, 2014). In Africa, there is often a lack of general awareness on issues relating to child labour. Child labour may additionally be perpetuated by critical circumstances such as HIV/AIDS and food crises (ILO, 2006). It may be further perpetuated by a lack of access to quality education, which is the most recognized developmental alternative to child labour. Regardless of these limitations, it cannot be refuted that IPEC has made considerable achievements.
The Future of IPEC and Child Labour
The slowing pace of decline in child labour is likely to worsen in the future given that poverty, as a key driver of child labour, is expected to increase in certain regions. World Bank projects an increase of 50 million people living in extreme poverty in Africa between 2011-2030 (ILO, UNICEF & World Bank, 2018). Should the current pace be maintained, it is predicted that it will take up to 40 years to eliminate all forms of child labour (ILO et al., 2018). This is a far cry from IPEC’s intent to helping achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, specifically Sustainable Development Goal 8, target 8.7 of eliminating all forms of child labour by 2025 (“Sustainable Development Goal 8”, n.d.). As such, it is necessary for the ILO-IPEC and other agencies to strengthen the momentum of their efforts in eliminating child labour. They must adopt an integrated, multi-strategy approach that is not only reactive in addressing child labour, but also proactive in preventing it.
One strategy to fully eliminate child labour is to foster economic development and decent work through social dialogue, especially in high risk sectors (ILO et al., 2018). Strong industrial relations are key to this strategy, as freedom of association and collective bargaining can protect young workers or increase parents’ wages, hence pre-emptively reducing the need for child labour. Another strategy draws upon a key challenge IPEC still faces, which is to build national and regional capacities in tackling child labour (ILO et al., 2018). The ILO and partners should help countries mainstream child labour concerns to national agendas and policies and support them in implementing relevant action plans either through financial, technology or knowledge resources (ILO, 2014; ILO et al., 2018). Moreover, the IPEC in particular should focus on building national ownership and scaling up smaller projects and TBPs (ILO, 2010).
Going forward, the ILO should enhance tripartite action through increasing awareness of partner activities, collaboration opportunities and donor support (ILO, 2014). Cooperation and knowledge sharing between agencies and nations are also imperative in the fight against child labour (ILO et al., 2018). Finally, it should be emphasized that these various strategies and efforts must tackle the problem of child labour at its roots to ensure sustainable impacts.
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