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About the Author

Tiziana Cauli
Journalist (London, UK)

I am a London-based Italian journalist currently covering the property market in Europe, but with a strong background and interest in development issues. I graduated in a post-degree school of journalism in Milan (Italy) and hold a Ph.D. in African Studies. I worked as a journalist in South Africa, Italy, France and Spain and am fluent in Italian, English, Spanish and French.


Child-labour: the NAT’s dilemma

Published 09th May 2010 - 7 comments - 5767 views -

One of my worst fears as a kid was being sent to a boarding school as a punishment for not behaving. That threat was the only effective weapon against parental exasperation my mother could use when my brother and I were driving her crazy. She knew it would always do the trick.

I still remember the day she used the boarding school threat in front of a family friend, who promptly added “no, not to a boarding school, mom will force you to find a job and go to work every day.” We went silent – more fascinated by such thought than actually scared – and my mother did too. It took her a good 20 seconds to react by saying in a very serious tone: “no, what kind of parents would do that? Children should not work.”

Children should not work. I have always thought the same. After all, children, at least the lucky ones who were born and raised in wealthy Europe as I was, have a long list of both institutionalized and commonly recognized rights nobody would or should ever dare question. They have the right to receive an education, to follow their vocational orientation, to decide what they want to study and what they want to become. They even have the right to play, as this activity is crucial for the development of their personalities.

This is why I was a bit puzzled when I received a press release from a prominent charity whose activities I had often covered. Terre des Hommes (TdH), which supports children rights in the developing world, was publicly calling for the International Labour Organization (ILO) to invite representatives from networks of child workers to the Global Child Labour Conference which will be kick-started on May 10 in the Hague.

While it made perfect sense to me that a conference on a particular social category could not exclude its representatives, I was not familiar with the concept of NAT’s networks, which represent child and adolescent workers  – “niños y adolescentes trabajadores” in Spanish – in some Latin American countries.

At first I found the idea of what sounded to me like labour unions for kids a bit disturbing. It took me a while to digest it and to go dig deeper into the issue.  I am now glad I did as a better look at what NAT’s are about made me change my mind.

TdH president Raffaele Salinari said that “NAT's, in their different articulations, have defended child workers’ rights with some remarkably advanced proposals for several years.” A quick look at some NAT's websites was enough for me, indeed, to realize how useful these associations can be for children in disadvantaged world regions.

Professional training, leading to better opportunities for youth who are forced to work to help out their families, is among the main targets of NAT's in Latin America, where regional NAT's movement Molacnats’ action plays an important role in promoting government policies for the protection of child workers. Eradicating violence on the work-place and assisting child workers within their family environment are also among the organization’s targets.

NAT's movements are particularly active in Peru and across Latin America in general, but similar organizations operate also in Africa and in Asia. Supportive NGOs were also created in Europe, mainly in Italy and in Germany. They all try to improve the living and working conditions of children where child labour still cannot be removed.

Children should not work. I still believe societies must tend to the implementation of this principle. But there are places, at present, where children do work and this will not change until more complex development issues such as poverty are properly addressed.

In these places, parents wish they could send their kids to a boarding school and children would perceive this as a reward, not a punishment. By the time this opportunity is extended to their social environment, though, these kids will be adults. Meanwhile, they could use some support in the fights for their basic rights as workers, which are so difficult to defend even for their older colleagues.



  • Tobal on 10th May 2010:

    I would classify “NATs” as a necessary evil. One that, as pure intentions go, should not even be thought of.
    But then, in this kind of world, we must accept such ideas and hope to implement them in the best possible way.
    “NATs” try and ensure that no more possibilities are taken away from kids. It should be quite the opposite, to give more possibilities to children (and their families), but it isn’t.
    But I guess that until we all take the moral decision, to not support “business practices” that rely on child labor or that exploit communities so much that child labor is required, we will still need to keep up placing nets to prevent our freefall into slavery.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 11th May 2010:

    Hi Tiziana,

    Child labor in the Philippines is also rampant. It’s sad.

  • Tiziana Cauli on 11th May 2010:

    @ Tobal: Thank you for your comment. I also think it would be great if Nats didn’t need to exist. But poverty and exploitment are tricky issues. First of all we consumers in the industrialized world are not always aware of how the things we are buying were produced. Most of the times we may make an effort to know more, but we tend to convince ourselves we can never be sure anyway so it’s not even worth trying. Secondly - and I am trying to be as open-minded as possible here - as long as rights such as those to health and education are not denied - light forms of work for kids over a certain age may really make the difference in their lives and in that of their families by preventing them from starving and, sometimes, keeping them away from dangerous activities. I agree with you, there should be no need for that, and this is extremely unfair. All kids should spend their time going to school and having fun. But this is the world we live in, unfortunately, and this is how bad we are.

    @ Iris: It is very sad, and it happens everywhere, not only in the developing world.

  • Elsje Fourie on 19th May 2010:

    Hi Tiziana - really interesting, as I hadn’t heard of NATs until now. Have you seen the short film Kavi, nominated for an Oscar this year?  An effective little glimpse of life as a child labourer in India, and quite useful for raising awareness of the issue.  I haven’t figured out how to hyperlink in posts yet, but the a link to the movie or trailer should be easy to find. grin

  • Tiziana Cauli on 19th May 2010:

    Hi Elsje,
    thanks for the suggestion, I didn’t know this movie! Hyperlinking here seems impossible. I tried as well but didn’t manage smile I found the movie website though and it seems very interesting.
    Exploitation of street children in India is a really big issue. Once I was working on an article about an Indian helpline for minors and I came across a very disturbing story of an 11-year old kid working as an attraction in a circus, where they made him lay under huge stones for the public’s entertainment. Luckily some people still percieve this kind of exploitment as an abuse, not just labour, and call the authorities or, in this case, a helpline…

  • Hussam Hussein on 19th May 2010:

    Ciao Tiziana, thanks for your post, I always enjoy very much reading your posts! I didn’t know about NAT, so thanks again! smile

  • Tiziana Cauli on 19th May 2010:

    Thanks Hussam. I’m glad I got a chance to write about NATs. I guess their activities don’t get a lot of attention as they are not openly supported by organizations for children and workers rights.

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