Improving access to employment and combating child labour

In a 2005 survey on attitudes to education and training, child labour and undeclared work, most survey respondents underlined the importance of education in enabling access to the labour market. The study analysed labour market trends in terms of the gap between demand and supply, particularly in relation to qualification levels. Focusing on disadvantaged areas within four regions - including the capital, Bucharest - the analysis identified significant information and education gaps, as well as ambivalence towards some forms of child labour.

In 2005, a study was carried out in the capital city, Bucharest, and in three selected counties in Romania, with the financial assistance of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), as part of the International Programme on Elimination of Child Labour. The study aimed to contribute to reducing exposure in communities to the worst forms of child labour, by improving the awareness and access of young people and adults to the local labour market.

The study was developed in response to the objectives set out in the national strategy for combating child labour, namely to:

  • reduce the vulnerability of children to trafficking;
  • promote youth and adult employment;
  • facilitate the long-term reintegration of child victims of trafficking.

Objectives of study

The study aimed to analyse the current status and existing trends in local labour markets at county level, as well as the discrepancies between labour force demand and supply in disadvantaged communities in terms of education, training and qualifications. The study further sought to investigate people’s attitudes regarding education and vocational training, labour and child labour, and undeclared work.

The analysis focused on three counties and the municipality of Bucharest, which were identified by previous studies as having a widespread incidence of child labour. An in-depth analysis was carried out in particular communities within these selected locations that were identified by experts on child labour issues as having a higher risk of social exclusion.

Methodology

The study research methodology comprised the following:

  • a secondary analysis based on statistical data available at regional and local level;
  • a survey using the following methods/tools:
    • a structured interview with experts in the field;
    • an employer questionnaire;
    • a questionnaire to young people and adults from marginalised communities;
    • focus groups.

Study findings

The study was carried out in three north-eastern counties - Botosani, Iasi and Giurgiu - and in Bucharest. The counties of Botosani, Iasi and Giurgiu are among the poorest regions of Romania, with high population rates employed in subsistence-type agriculture; as a result, they are highly conducive to child labour on an extensive scale. Moreover, these three counties comprise border areas, renowned as transit regions for the international trafficking of human beings.

Although the municipality of Bucharest is the most economically developed region in Romania, it contains communities affected by severe poverty and the worst forms of child labour. Furthermore, ‘working street children’ come to Bucharest from all over the country.

Efficacy of institutions in combating child labour

According to the interviews with leading experts, the most efficacious institutions for preventing and combating child labour in the three counties and in Bucharest were the Directorates for Children’s Rights Protection , namely the Social Assistance Directorates ; on a scale of 1 (completely inefficient) to 10 (very efficient), these institutions received a score of 8 on the scale. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the police also ranked highly at 7.3 and 7 respectively. However, trade unions and employer organisations scored relatively low, at 3.6 and 3.3 respectively.

School inspectorates ranked 6.7 on the scale, regional labour inspectorates were rated at 6.3 and local employment agencies at 5.9.

Attitudes regarding education

The majority of respondents from the disadvantaged communities consider education to be an important prerequisite for earning a living and for having access to formal (rather than undeclared) income sources: 60% of those surveyed stated that it was ‘important’ and 22% considered it as ‘very important’. The higher their own education level, the better aware the respondents are of the value of education. It is interesting to note that only 17% of the respondents believe that the minimum wage is sufficient to have a good quality of life, which suggests that most people would like to aim towards earning a bigger income, the best means of which is through higher education levels.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that some 18% of the survey participants do not consider that it is important to attend school. It should be noted that the Romanian system of education favours high academic achievers and does not always meet the needs of children from disadvantaged communities.

Attitudes regarding vocational training courses

Vocational training appears to be a token priority for many employers. Its nominal importance is not supported by any corresponding investment in human resources. Rather, this activity is considered as an expense that should be paid by each individual. Moreover, the employers’ responses showed their clear tendency to employ those persons who are already qualified for the relevant position, thereby requiring no further investment in their vocational training. Thus, the lack of an adequate initial education or qualification becomes a crucial obstacle in accessing the labour market, particularly for people from disadvantaged communities.

Attitudes regarding child labour

Some 69% of the respondents believe that children’s involvement in household activities is beneficial to their development. In addition, a relatively substantial proportion of 17% believe that it is good to involve children aged under 15 years in economic activities, either of a temporary or ongoing nature. The benefits include making the children more responsible, more used to work and more aware of life’s hardships. These respondents generally involve children aged under 15 years in ‘land labour’ - i.e. subsistence type agriculture - and activities usually labelled as ‘light work’.

Most of the survey respondents are aware of the impact that the involvement in economic activities could have either on the child’s school performance (49%) or health (29%). It should be underlined that a high percentage realise that young people aged between 15 and 18 years can only carry out light work.

People living in rural areas were more likely to favour children’s involvement in economic activities. Indeed, some of the responses did not clearly distinguish between the children’s involvement in housekeeping activities and in activities related to subsistence agriculture. This was especially the case in rural areas, but also in towns and cities, and characterises the so-called phenomenon of ‘dual employment’.

Conclusions and recommendations

The survey identified the existence of two important gaps between labour demand and supply in disadvantaged communities.

Firstly, an information gap was found in terms of limited awareness of employment opportunities; relatives and acquaintances act as the main information sources. The local employment offices are not regarded highly in terms of the trustworthiness and efficacy of their services, scoring 5.9 out of 10 in perceived efficiency. Increasing the efficiency of this service requires the identification of adequate ways to target disadvantaged communities. A further problem identified from the responses of the young people and adults is the lack of basic knowledge in relation to job-seeking techniques.

Secondly, the obstacles identified by all the respondents with respect to the access of young people to the labour market combine to represent a significant educational gap. The young people and adults are mainly lacking either an initial education, practical experience or the necessary qualifications. Moreover, young people have an unsophisticated attitude towards work, often seeking immediate and high gains perhaps outside the formal economy, rather than a stable job offering an income and career prospects in accordance with their vocational training and the work performed.

Catalin Ghinararu and Cristina Mocanu, National Labour Research Institute

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