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«Action for the Rights of Children (ARC) Critical Issues Abuse and Exploitation CONTENTS BRIEFING NOTES FOR FACILITATORS Page Introduction Topic 1: ...»

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• In some situations, children work not so much to contribute to the family economy as to provide for their own consumption. This is to be seen most

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clearly in western societies, where children work in service industries, delivering newspapers, babysitting etc., but is a growing trend in parts of Eastern Europe and in some developing countries.

• From the point of view of an employer, child labourers may have some specific advantages. For example they may be cheaper to employ, less aware of their rights, more compliant, more willing to carry out monotonous tasks, easier to lay off and do not join trade unions.


World-wide, children are involved in many different types of work. The circumstances of these different types of work are analysed under the headings below.

• Work activities: these can range from a huge variety of agricultural activities to domestic work, caring for younger children, carrying goods, sweeping, construction work, a wide variety of tasks within manufacturing industry, including operating machinery as well as manual tasks, vending, gathering and sorting rubbish, shining shoes, prostitution and so on.

• The work environment: this can be the family home, an employer’s house, the family’s fields or land to which they have access, land owned by other people, a factory, shop, market or warehouse, a mine, the street, a building site, and so on.

• The presence of specific hazards: these may include using dangerous agricultural or industrial chemicals, operating dangerous machinery, working in a hazardous environment (e.g. a mine or on the streets), undertaking heavy manual work which may be dangerous for younger children, working excessively long hours, or exposure to the dangers of physical or sexual abuse. Children may be more prone to occupational injuries than adults because of their developmental stage e.g. shorter concentration span, fatigue,

poor judgement. Issues of psychological hazards have been under-researched:

work characteristics such as boredom, or emotional abuse by employers or customers may have a negative impact on children.

• The nature of the employment relationship: children may work for their own parents, for other adults within the friendship network of their own families, for employers (ranging from householders to factory owners), for brothel-keepers, criminal gangs and so on. In the case of bonded labour, children may have been sold, in effect, to employers, giving the latter great power over them and effectively denying the children the protection of their own families. Other young people will be working on a self-employed basis in the informal sector e.g. shining shoes, collecting waste or vending on the street.

• The benefits of work: the literature on child work tends to give much more prominence to the perceived hazards than to the benefits of work. More recent research has highlighted that work is seen as beneficial to children in many societies. Benefits may include, for example, economic benefits, socialisation into adult roles and responsibilities, learning how to manage time and money, dealing with the public, and gaining a sense of independence, pride and satisfaction leading to enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence.

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Some types of work are seen to be more appropriate for either girls or boys.

Hence, for example, it may be relatively unusual to find girls working in the construction industry. Boys may be more exposed to injury in the work that they perform. On the other hand, domestic workers will normally be girls, who may face the risk of sexual abuse and exploitation. The workload of girls within the family is often much heavier than that of boys: this may be a factor in the lower enrolment of girls in school. Girls are obviously more likely to become involved in commercial sexual exploitation, though in some countries boys are also involved.


It is sometimes assumed that child labour is harmful to children because it prevents them from attending school. But the relationship between work and education is not as simple as this.

• Sometimes the reality of the family economy is such that work must take precedence over school.

• In many situations, however, it has been found that it is children’s work that makes it possible for them to attend school. If education is not free, or if the family must provide for the costs of books and materials, then working may actually facilitate access to education.

• The inflexibility of the timing of school may prevent some children from attending when work has to be undertaken at certain times of the day, or within certain seasons.

• Parents who have received little or no education themselves may tend to under-value educational opportunities for their children.

• In some situations, the perceived quality and relevance of school may be so poor that both children and their families believe that they have more to learn from the experience of working than from attending school.

• Valuable skills and knowledge can be learned through work, including apprenticeships and acquisition of traditional family trades and skills. Such methods of learning may be especially important in low-income countries where schools are either unavailable or of poor quality.

This issue is explored further in the ARC Resource Pack on Education, Topic 7.


It is important to avoid making the assumption that, if refugee children are working, then this is automatically a protection and/or assistance problem that needs to be addressed. For many families, work is not so much a problem as a solution to a problem.

One of the problems in much of the literature on child labour is that assumptions are made about the effects of work on children. Very often there is a strong emphasis on work hazards and assumptions are made on their effects on children’s well-being and development. But the relationship between work hazards and children’s development is a complex one. On the one hand, children may be ________________________________________

Abuse and Exploitation - Revision Version 04/01 Page 18 Action for the Rights of Children (ARC) more susceptible to some work hazards than are adults because they are in the process of growth and have particular developmental needs. On the other hand, recent research has demonstrated that working children can have an extraordinary ability to weigh the complex costs and benefits involved in work. In attempting to determine whether or not work is harmful to children, it is vital to determine not just the objective conditions of their work but also the subjective value given to work by the children themselves. Research suggests that children can be extremely resilient and that the advantages that they themselves perceive may serve to shield them from some possible detrimental outcomes. On the other hand, resilience should never be a reason for not confronting work that is clearly damaging and exploitative. The effects of abuse and exploitation on children’s development are considered in the ARC Resource Pack on Child and Adolescent Development, Topic 4.

In refugee contexts, where child labour is seen to be a significant issue, it will be important to undertake a thorough situation analysis. Some of the most serious hazards may be the most difficult to see, for example children sent away to be domestic workers. An essential aspect of a situation analysis will be to facilitate children’s participation in order to ensure that their perceptions about the costs and benefits of work are fully taken into account. Reference can be made to the Situation Analysis Resource Pack for methods to use (Topics 4-8).


Overhead 3.1: Key Learning Points for Topic 3 Summary of key learning points

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Education Exercise 6.2: “Poverty, Livelihood, Food and Education” is very relevant for facilitators who want to consider the inter-relationship between work and education for children who have to work in order to live.

Exploitation and Abuse Exercise 1.2 is also relevant to this topic.

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• Children may be particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation given their level of dependency and their limited power and ability to protect themselves. Additional ethnic, gender, cultural, economic and societal factors greatly increase their risk of becoming victims of sexual abuse and exploitation.

• Sexual abuse and exploitation can take a variety of forms including rape, commercial sexual exploitation and domestic abuse. To best address and prevent the occurrence of such abuse and exploitation it is important to understand how each act is defined.

• The perpetrators of sexual violence and exploitation are diverse. The term perpetrator represents those who indirectly coerce, trick, encourage, organise and maintain the exploitation, as well as those adults who participate in the exploitation directly.

• Sexual exploitation has devastating effects on the physical and mental health of children, including their ability to learn and communicate.

There may also be a profound impact on the family and community.

• Where the perpetrator of sexual abuse is a member of the child’s family there are particular protection issues. These are discussed separately in Topic 9.


The UNHCR Guidelines on Prevention and Response of Sexual Violence Against Refugees defines sexual violence as all forms of sexual threat, assault, interference and exploitation, including “statutory rape” and molestation without physical harm or penetration. Sexual exploitation can also involve the use or threat of force on a child with the objective of forcing the child to take part in sexual acts performed by third persons.

The legal definition of rape varies from country to country. In many societies it is defined as sexual intercourse with another person without their consent. In the case of children, lack of consent is assumed when the child is considered incapable of understanding the sexual nature of the act. UNHCR recognises rape as being committed when the victim’s resistance is overcome by force or fear or under other coercive conditions.

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The Stockholm Congress defined commercial sexual exploitation of children as a practice that implies not only that the child is sexually abused but also that there is an exchange of goods or money as remuneration. Commercial exploitation therefore covers prostitution, domestic servitude and/or bonded labour, trafficking, and pornography. Commercial sexual exploitation is an extreme form of sexual abuse and a particularly insidious form of child labour.


Many factors may place children at particular risk of sexual exploitation and violence.

• Poverty and social inequality put refugee children at an increased risk of sexual exploitation, particularly prostitution and trafficking. Children are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked for sexual exploitation given that virginity, innocence and physical immaturity may be highly prized amongst perpetrators. In addition, economic insecurity may force families to initiate prostitution or trafficking in an effort to escape the desperation of their extreme poverty.

• Consumerism/Materialism: the development of a culture which condones the commodification of individuals (particularly women and children) in an effort to acquire material wealth, increases the vulnerability of children to fall victim to sexual violence and exploitation. For example, older women and men who kidnap or coerce young children into prostitution and other sexually exploitative practices as a way of making money.

• Situations of armed conflict and subsequent displacement of people can create a serious disruption of societal values. This may put children at greater risk of being targeted for sexual exploitation and assault by the military, irregular forces, other refugees, and/or those in a position of authority. This vulnerability can also be exacerbated by the breakdown of the family unit which reduces a child’s access to protection and a secure and a stable environment.

• Gender: although both boys and girls are victims of sexual violence and exploitation, a general low regard for women exists in many cultures where women and girls are viewed as property. The vast majority of sexually assaulted, abused or exploited children are girls. On the other hand, a taboo against homosexuality may lead to the exploitation of boys being masked by silence.

• Separated children living on their own, and children in foster families or institutions, are also at increased risk of sexual exploitation and violence due to the fact that they no longer have direct access to a family member or family-like figures for physical protection and/or material and emotional support.

• Mentally and physically disabled children are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault and abuse owing to their inability to escape would-be aggressors. Children with both mental and physical disabilities require special attention when addressing issues of protection and care from sexual violence and exploitation.

• Children belonging to marginalised ethnic groups are sometimes targeted for sexual violence as a form of “ethnic cleansing”. This violence is often ________________________________________

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