Last week following the World Day against Child Labor, India ratified two International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions that seek to eliminate child labor, and Thailand ratified one ILO Convention that prohibits labor discrimination. [ILO Press Release: India; ILO Press Release: Thailand; UN News Centre] The first convention India ratified, the ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138), requires that States parties set a minimum age for children to work in any occupation and provides particular requirements for hazardous work. The second convention India ratified, the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), requires that States parties take concrete steps to prevent child participation in the most harmful categories of labor, including slavery, forced labor, trafficking, child prostitution, and particularly hazardous work, among others. Thailand ratified the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111) (Employment Discrimination Convention), which requires States parties to develop, promote, and practice national policies that ensure equal opportunity and treatment in employment.
All three conventions are included in the ILO’s eight fundamental conventions, which the ILO believes provide a framework for striving for the remaining rights at work. The ILO aims to achieve universal ratification of the fundamental conventions, and according to the ILO, only 129 ratifications are left to achieve that goal. See ILO, Conventions and Recommendations. Only six States have yet to ratify the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, which has accumulated ratifications at a rate faster than any other ILO Convention. [ILO Press Release: India] India has now ratified four of the eight fundamental conventions, and Thailand has ratified five of eight. See ILO, Ratifications of fundamental Conventions by country.
Ratification of the ILO Conventions
India, referring to its commitment to eliminating child labor, deposited the instruments of ratification with the ILO for the Minimum Age Convention and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention on June 13, 2017. [ILO Press Release: India] Once ratification of both ILO Conventions comes into force for India, the State will be bound to the standards and obligations in both conventions. The conventions enter into force one year after deposit of ratification, so in this case, they will come into effect on June 13, 2018. India set the minimum age to work at 14 years. See ILO, Ratifications of C138 – Minimum Age Convention; ILO, Ratifications of C182 – Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention.
After the deposit of ratification, the State’s Minister of Labour referenced the country’s recent domestic initiatives to end child labor and stated that eliminating child labor is necessary to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. [ILO Press Release: India] India is the 170th ILO Member State to ratify the Minimum Age Convention and the 181st Member State to ratify the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention. See ILO, Ratifications of C138 – Minimum Age Convention; ILO, Ratifications of C182 – Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention.
Thailand ratified the Employment Discrimination Convention on June 13, 2017. [ILO Press Release: Thailand] The Convention will come into force for Thailand on June 13, 2018, one year after the deposit of ratification, at which time the standards and obligations set forth in the Convention will be binding upon the State. See ILO, Ratifications of C111 – Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention. Thailand’s Minister of Labour also referenced domestic laws committed to nondiscrimination in labor and the importance of commitment to the convention in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. [ILO Press Release: Thailand] Thailand is the 175th Member State to ratify the Employment Discrimination Convention. See ILO, Ratifications of C111 – Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention.
Background on the ILO Conventions
The Minimum Age Convention dictates that States parties must set a minimum age of no younger than 15 years to work in any occupation, barring specific exceptions, and a minimum age of 18 years to work in a hazardous occupation, with limited exceptions. The Convention allows for a State to initially set the general minimum age at 14 years if the country’s “economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed” and the State has consulted with employers and workers. See Convention concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment (adopted 26 June 1973, entered into force 19 June 1976), 1015 UNTS 297, arts. 2-3, 8. The obligations in the Convention do not apply to work done by children in schools or in other training programs. See id. at art. 6.
The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention is the most widely ratified of the eight ILO fundamental conventions. See ILO, Ratifications of fundamental Conventions by country. The Convention aims to eliminate the most egregious forms of child labor for all children under age 18, including slavery, forced labor, trafficking, the use of children in armed conflict, child prostitution, pornography, and hazardous work. See Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (adopted 17 June 1999, entered into force 19 November 2000), 2133 UNTS 161, arts. 1-3. States parties are obligated to monitor the implementation of the Convention and to implement programs to eliminate child labor. See id. at arts. 5-6. States parties must ensure access to free primary education; prevent engagement of children in the worst forms of child labor; provide assistance for the removal of children from the worst forms of child labor and their rehabilitation; and take into account the special situation of girls. See id. at art. 7.
The Employment Discrimination Convention prohibits discrimination in employment. The Convention defines discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion or preference based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national or social origin, or other distinction which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation.” See Convention concerning Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation (adopted 15 June 1958, entered into force 15 June 1960), 362 UNTS 31, arts. 1-2. The Convention applies to employment and vocational training. See id. at art. 3. The Convention provides an exception for the discriminatory treatment of individuals suspected of endangering national security, so long as the affected individual has access to judicial review. See id. at art. 4. Additionally, measures prescribed by the ILO in other conventions or recommendations are not deemed discriminatory for the purpose of the Employment Discrimination Convention. Measures aimed to accommodate the needs of a particular class of people in need of special protection and developed in consultation with workers’ organizations are also not discriminatory under the Convention. See id. at art. 5.
India’s Human Rights Record on Child Labor
India is a founding member of the ILO and has been a Member State of the organization since 1919. See ILO, ILO in India. The six fundamental ILO conventions that India has ratified include, relatedly, the ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and the ILO Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105). According to India’s Minister of Labor, the ratification of the abovementioned conventions reflects the country’s ongoing effort to eliminate child labor. [ILO Press Release: India] Previously, an amendment to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986, which entered into force in India on September 1, 2016, bars any child younger than 14 years from working in any occupation and bans adolescents aged 14 to 18 years from working in hazardous occupations. [ILO Press Release: India] This amendment translates to protections for nearly half a billion Indian children and adolescents. [ILO Press Release: Landmark Step] Additional amendments to the Child Labor Act provided, for the first time, a framework for preventing, prohibiting, rescuing, and rehabilitating child and adolescent workers. [ILO Press Release: India]
Despite the legislative progress made, the ILO has found that India hosts the largest share of child laborers across the South Asian region, with 5.8 million children aged five to 17 in child labor situations. See ILO, Child labour in South Asia. Additionally, United Nations experts consistently express concern regarding a range of child’s rights issues in India, including violence against children, child poverty, child marriage, the forced labor of girls, and a lack of freedom of expression. [OHCHR Press Release: Freedom of Expression; OHCHR Press Release: UPR; OHCHR Press Release: CEDAW; OHCHR Press Release: CRC]
India is also a member of the United Nations and has relevant obligations under the United Nations universal human rights system. Notably, India has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its two protocols – the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. See OHCHR, Status of Ratification Interactive Dashboard.
Thailand’s Human Rights Record on Labor Discrimination
Thailand is one of the founding members of the ILO and has been a Member State since 1919. See ILO, The ILO in Thailand. With the ratification of the Employment Discrimination Convention, Thailand has now ratified six out of eight ILO Fundamental Conventions, including the ILO Equal Remuneration Convention. 1951 (No. 100). According to the Minister of Labour of Thailand, the ratification of the Employment Discrimination Convention affirms Thailand’s commitment to eliminating discrimination in employment, reflected already in Thailand’s national policy and 2017 constitution. [ILO Press Release: Thailand] National legislation exists to address labor discrimination, such as the Labour Protection Act of 1998 (as amended 2008), which requires equal treatment and pay, except where impossible due to “the nature of certain work” for all workers. See ILO, Equality & Discrimination (2014). Additionally, regulations on labor standards provide guidance on wage, benefits, and job opportunities and prohibit discrimination against workers. See id. Regarding discrimination due to disability, the Promotion and Development of Quality of Life of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2007 defines quotas for hiring workers with disabilities in public and private sectors and provides tax incentives to employers. See id.
Despite the progress made, discrimination in employment continues to be a pervasive issue in Thailand, particularly with regard to sex and gender discrimination and against indigenous persons, persons with disabilities, migrant workers, and persons with positive HIV status. See id. Additionally, United Nations independent experts have consistently expressed their concern on a range of issues related to discrimination and the implementation of international human rights standards in Thailand, including in the context of the rights of persons with disabilities, migrants, and the right to freedom of expression. [OHCHR Press Release: Disability; OHCHR Press Release: Migrants; OHCHR Press Release: Freedom of Expression]
Thailand is also a member of the United Nations and has assumed pertinent obligations under the United Nations universal human rights system. Thailand has ratified several United Nations human rights treaties that are relevant to labor rights and discrimination, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and its protocol – the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination(CERD); and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its optional protocol – the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. See OHCHR, Status of Ratification Interactive Dashboard.
The ILO is a specialized UN agency composed of 187 Member States tasked with developing and promoting international labor standards. The ILO hosted its 106th Session of the International Labour Conference from June 5 to June 16, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland. During this session, the ILO held the World of Work Summit: A better future for women at work on June 15, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland.
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