The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers adopted a resolution in response to the first-ever collective complaint lodged by the ICJ against Portugal under the European Social Charter.
Meeting at deputies level, the Committee of Ministers, political body of the Council of Europe, took note of the report submitted on 10 September 1999, by the European Committee of Social Rights, composed of independent experts. This Committee found a breach by Portugal of Article 7, Paragraph 1 of the European Social Charter, which prohibits the employment of children under the age of 15.
The European Committee of Social Rights observed, on the basis of the evidence submitted by the ICJ and as confirmed by a survey performed by the Portuguese Ministry of Labour itself and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), that several thousand children under the age of 15 work in breach of the requirements of both the Charter and Portuguese law. In particular, the Committee noted that the 25.000 children performing unpaid work as part of helping out the family, which occurs mainly in agriculture and the restaurant sector, must be taken into account under the European Social Charter. The Committee acknowledged that despite the many legal and practical measures adopted by Portugal to combat child labour, it is clear that the problem has not been resolved.
Portuguese children under the age of 15 work in the agricultural (66%), manufacturing (7.1 %), and construction (2.7%) sectors. The Committee noted that these sectors may, by their very nature, give rise to certain types of work which may have negative consequences on the children’s health as well as on their development.
The Committee further observed that the duration of work declared exceeds that which may be considered compatible with children’s health and schooling: 31.6% of the children concerned work in average more than 4 hours a day across all sectors. This percentage is particularly high in the construction sector and the manufacturing sector where respectively 66.6% and 42% of the children concerned work on average for more than 4 hours per day. The Committee noted that among the children aged 6-14 who performed paid work, only 68% attended school.
The ICJ deplores the fact that, contrarily to the specific prescription of Article 9 of the 1995 additional protocol to the European Social Charter, the Committee of Ministers did not adopt a clear-cut recommendation following the conclusion of the European Committee of Social Rights according to which Portugal is not in conformity with the European Social Charter. Instead, it limited itself to adopting a resolution referring back to the recommendation it adopted in 1998 against Portugal for its breach of Article 7. Para. 1. The ICJ also deplores the fact that the Committee of Ministers did not award it compensation in respect of costs incurred in preparing and submitting the complaint.
The ICJ is highly concerned by the situation of child labour in many other member States of the Council of Europe and intends to scrutinise the situation of child labour in other States. Several Member States of the Council of Europe, including some of the most economically developed, have either not ratified the European Social Charter and its Protocols or, if they have done so, have not accepted to be bound by Article 7, which prohibits child labour under the age of 15.NewsWeb stories