The Negotiable Child : The ILO Child Labour Campaign 1919-1973

Abstract: This dissertation examines the Conventions and Recommendations to regulate the minimum age for admission to employment between the years 1919 and 1973 – the ILO minimum age campaign. The adoption process has been studied in its chronological and historical context. The dissertation has three points of departure: that childhood is a historical construction and that the legal material is part of that construction; that the minimum age campaign suffered from a ‘hang-over-from-history’, namely, the history of Western industrialisation during the 19th and early 20th centuries; and, finally, that children had a subordinate and weak position in the minimum age campaign.The study was organised around five central themes: (1) the over-all theme of predominant conceptions of children and work; (2) the relationship between industrialised and colonised and developing nations; (3) the relationship between the child, the family and the state; (4) minimum age; and (5) the importance of school.The most important results of the study are that: (1) In view of the revolutionary changes during the 20th century the continuity in the minimum age campaign was remarkable. In 1919, the ‘child labour problem’ was an issue mainly for the Western industrialised word. By the end of the campaign, in 1973, the transformations in societies during the century had made ‘the child labour problem’ an issue mainly for the developing world and with different conditions and implications in many respects. The content and ‘grammar’ of the minimum age campaign was however never really challenged.(2) The study has verified that the minimum age campaign suffered from a ‘hang-over-from history’. The campaign built directly on the Western industrial experience during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Western dominance in the ILO, the legal transplants, and the roots in the labour movement all contributed to the ‘hang-over’. (3) The minimum age campaign was modelled on the ‘norm of the Western industrialised childhood’. The norms and realities of childhood in other parts of the world were neglected of considered as provisional and inferior phases in relation to the Western ‘norm’. In this way, there were two separate childhoods in the minimum age campaign: ‘the normal’ childhood conceived for Western conditions and ‘the other’ childhood conceived for the ‘imperfect’ conditions of poor children in the colonised and developing nations.(4) In the minimum age campaign the ‘best interests of the child’ was negotiable and was subordinated in case of conflict with other interests.