Survey examines child labour

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A study of child labour issued in July 2002 finds that some 49,000 children worked in Portugal in 2001. While overall child labour has risen since 1998, the employment of children in companies has fallen, but is still significant in the textiles, footwear, agriculture and domestic labour sectors. Northern Portugal has the country's highest levels of child labour. New types of child labour that take place within the family or are encouraged by it are emerging which are difficult to control. The study also concludes that entering the job market too early reduces children’s ambitions in terms of their careers and qualifications.

An International Labour Organisation (ILO) study on child labour in Portugal (PT0012124N and PT9902128F) was presented in Lisbon in July 2002. The study was conducted in October 2001 under the auspices of the ILO's Statistical Information and Monitoring Programme on Child Labour (SIMPOC). The study considers young people to be employed in child labour if they work more than 15 hours per week or carry out tasks which put their safety in jeopardy. It finds that

  • approximately 49,000 children are engaged in child labour, with two-thirds of them working for three hours per day;
  • the number of children aged between six and 15 engaged in all forms of work increased from 1998 to 2001;
  • the study distinguishes between child labour by children employed in companies and child labour outside companies. Portugal has seen a fall in child labour in companies since 1998, but it persists in the textiles and footwear sectors and represents 24.2% of all illegal employment in the country; and
  • the percentage of children engaged in child labour who work from four to six hours a day fell from 22.7% in 1998 to 15.6% in 2001, whereas the proportion working over seven hours a day fell from 21% in 1998 to 16.2% in 2001.

Sectoral, regional and seasonal variations

According to the study, agriculture accounts for largest proportion of child labour in Portugal (49.2%), followed by: commerce (12.6%); and manufacturing (12.6%, of which 3.8% in the textiles industry and 2.5% in the food industry).

In regional terms, Northern Portugal has most child labour, accounting for 51% of child labour, followed by the Centre of the country (25%) and Lisbon (10.5%).

In Portugal, minors mainly work in the summer, with August being the peak month, followed by July and September.

Education and ambitions

According to the study, despite the existence of child labour, 98.6% of children aged between six and 15 still go to school. Most of those who do not have left school because they did not like it, with 6.5% leaving because they need to help the family and 2.5% because school is expensive.

The survey also found that child labour affects the vocational ambitions of children. Of minors surveyed who were not working, 53% wanted to achieve a higher education qualification, compared with only 32% of those who worked. The fact of children working also affects their ambitions regarding their future career. Of those who did not work, 22.5% wanted to be doctors, 6.5% teachers, and 5.5% architects. Of those who worked, 22% wanted to be professional sportspeople, 6.3% builders or mechanics, and 6.2% workers in the textiles industry.

The nature of child labour

According to the director of Portugal's Plan to Eliminate the Exploitation of Child Labour (Plano de Eliminação da Exploração do Trabalho Infantil, PEETI), Portugal has two types of child labour: 'traditional' child labour; and the worst forms of child labour. Furthermore, new forms of child labour have emerged in recent times - often within the family or encouraged by it - whose real scale is unknown. Although society is more aware of child labour, forms of labour have arisen that are very hard to control, such as domestic work or even criminal activities, including prostitution and the use of children in pornography or as illegal drug-runners. PEETI also alludes to the psychologically harmful effects of using children in entertainment, and approves government proposals to address this issue (see below).

The Northern area coordinator for PEETI believes that schools have been partly responsible for early school-leaving, and thus for child labour. In his view, schools often fail to convince children and parents that they are there for a good reason, and so encourage them to leave.

Intervention by public authorities

Attempts by the authorities to address the child labour problem in Portugal has taken a number of forms. At international level, there has been an initiative by the ILO's director for Europe and Central Asia and the Portuguese Minister of Solidarity and Labour to open an ILO office in Lisbon, while Lisbon is now part of the network of United Nations offices in Western Europe that supplies statistics on child labour.

The ILO has decided to hold an annual 'world day against child labour', with the first held on 12 June 2002 under the slogan 'A future without child labour'. The Portuguese events on 12 June were organised by PEETI, in partnership with the National Confederation for Action on Child Labour (Confederação Nacional de Acção no Trabalho Infantil, CNASTI) and Minho University's Institute of Child Studies (Instituto de Estudos da Criança da Universidade do Minho).

Portuguese public authorities refer to the importance in combating child labour of cooperation between the social partners and civil society actors involved, and the importance of raising public awareness. The Minister of Social Security and Labour has expressed satisfaction at the results of the 2001 survey on child labour, and especially the decline in child labour by children working in firms as employees. However, the minister promises to make every effort to tighten up monitoring and to establish a stronger system of sanctions, together with an awareness-raising campaign to prevent early school-leaving. A first step will take place in September 2002, with legislation to limit or prohibit the use of children in entertainment, fashion shows, advertising or sport, which the minister believes endangers children's emotional stability, and is often a way of taking them out of the school system early.


Officially, child exploitation is declining in Portugal. However, one must not overlook the existence of a growing informal sector, which encompasses forms of child exploitation that are far harder to control than the traditional type, precisely because they are part of an informal and often shady sector of the economy.

The issue of child labour is linked to early school-leaving, which adds to the problem of the low qualifications generally held by Portuguese worker, especially in the sectors that are most highly affected by child labour - textiles, footwear, agriculture and building. (Célia Quinta and Maria Luisa Cristovam, UAL)

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