International Commission of Jurists v. Portugal

Complaint No. 1/1998
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The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) alleged that a large number of children work illegally in many economic sectors in Portugal. It further stated that the poor working conditions these children are subjected to have a serious impact on their health. The ICJ produced several documents and relied particularly on a report which stated that more than 2,00,000 children under the age of 15 were employed and suffered from poor work conditions.

The ICJ stated that the non-implementation of the child labour laws and inaction by the State was a direct violation of Article 7 of the Social Charter which protects the rights of the children and further states the following: “to provide that the minimum age of admission to employment shall be 15 years, subject to exceptions for children employed in prescribed light work without harm to their health, morals or education;”

The ICJ prayed that family business be recognised as establishments for the purposes of prohibiting child labour.

The Committee found that there was a violation of the Charter. It stated that while the Portuguese was adequate, the implementation of it was poor. The only exception was light work, which the State is mandated to list out. However, thousands of children were working in breach of the Charter and the Portuguese law. The children worked in sectors, which required heavy work and most of the time the duration of hours were excessive. In some cases, they were not even paid.

It emerges from this survey that in September 1998 several thousand children under the age of fifteen years performed work in breach of the requirements of Article 7 para. 1 of the Charter and Portuguese law. The Committee considers in particular that the 25,000 children who, out of an estimated total of 27,500, performed unpaid work as part of helping out the family must be taken into account under Article 7 para. 1.” (Para 35)

The Committee notes further that, according to the survey, a not insignificant number of children under the age of fifteen years who declared that they performed an economic activity work in the agricultural (66%), manufacturing (7.1%) and construction (2.7%) sectors. These sectors may, by their very natures, give rise to certain types of work which may have negative consequences on the children's health as well as on their development.”(Para 36).

The Committee observes lastly that, taking all sectors together, the duration of work declared exceeds that which may be considered compatible with children's health or schooling: 31.6% of the children concerned worked on average for more than 4 hours per day across all sectors. This percentage is particularly high in the construction sector and the manufacturing sector where, respectively, 66.6% and 42% of the children concerned worked on average for more than four hours per day. The Committee notes that among the children aged between 6 and 14 years who performed paid work, just 68% attended school.” (Para 37)