IREWOC – International Research on Working Children
In this Newsletter:
Recently Completed Projects
IREWOC (International Research on Working Children) is an independent research institute with a focus on policy relevant research on working children, street children and children who are, in general, excluded from mainstream childhood development. The foundation was initiated in 1992; its director Professor Dr. Kristoffel Lieten is a professor of Child Labour at the University of Amsterdam and the International Institute of Social History.
IREWOC studies child labour from a child rights’ perspective in accordance with the principles of the ILO and UN Conventions. Research, to date, has involved the worst forms of child labour, rural labour, trafficking, basic education, street children, agency and participation, and children’s organizations.
IREWOC specializes in problem analysis on the basis of intensive anthropological fieldwork, benchmark surveys and impact studies. IREWOC has also developed a successful practical and theoretical module on child research capacity training, designed to strengthen research capacity in developing countries. More information can be found on www.irewoc.nl or contact IREWOC through
Some indicators suggest that the position of children in the world has improved over the last decade, at least in a number of countries. Other indicators, however, are less optimistic and show that the financial crisis, political decisions and natural disasters have caused a setback.
The need for detailed knowledge thus remains paramount. IREWOC, at the beginning of this new decade, will continue to partner with other child-centred organizations in the attempt to provide the necessary knowledge.
International Research on Working Children (IREWOC)
Website: www.irewoc.nl; http://www.kinderrechtenhuis.nl
All IREWOC research reports are available for download from the IREWOC website: Publications>IREWOC Research Reports. All reports may be cited as long as IREWOC and all authors are mentioned accordingly.
Strehl, Talinay (2010) Street-Working and Street-Living Children in Peru: Conditions and Current Interventions. Leiden: IREWOC (Web ) (Download>>>)
IREWOC recently completed its research project “Street Children in Peru”. Local organisations expressed the need to update the information about this specific group of children. A qualitative comparative research between Lima and Cusco was conducted by IREWOC researcher Talinay Strehl. She spent two months in each city communicating with the children, their families, NGO workers etc., looking for answers to important questions concerning the situation of the children, especially regarding their experiences with interventions implemented in their name.
This research was funded by Cordaid, Plan Netherlands and ASN Bank. Depending on future funding, research on street children will take place in other cities across the world as well. Applications for funds with some organisations have reached an advanced stage. Any parties interested in becoming involved should contact us through
The main report for this project is qualitative in nature, but calls on the data collected and presented in the two quantitative reports mentioned below. This report is currently being translated into Spanish.
Ensing, Anna & Talinay Strehl (unpublished-2010) Street-Working and Street-Living Children in Peru: Quantitative Report Cusco. Leiden: IREWOC (Download>>>)
Ensing, Anna & Talinay Strehl (unpublished-2010) Street-Working and Street-Living Children in Peru: Quantitative Report Lima. Leiden: IREWOC (Download>>>)
The “Street Children in Peru” research project (see publication above) also included a quantitative component. Eighteen local researchers carried out a survey among 1200 street children in Lima and Cusco by means of questionnaires. Anna Ensing and Talinay Strehl trained the researchers during a one-week workshop in November 2009. The quantitative data provides a strong base on which to analyse the anthropological material.
Lieten, G.K. (ed) (2011) Hazardous Child Labour in Latin America. Dordrecht:Springer ()
From children working on Bolivian sugar cane plantations to child miners in Peru, child labour lingers on in many parts of the world, including Latin America. There are various reasons as to why child labour continues to be such a tenuous social problem. There is disagreement on its causes and thus also disagreement on the solutions. There is even disagreement on the extent of the problem. In order to bridge this lack of information and to stimulate policy interventions, the IREWOC Foundation (International Research on Working Children) has undertaken action-based research in the field of the worst forms of child labour in Latin America. This book is based on the foundation’s research.
It aims to document the living and working conditions of child labourers, to explore the true reasons why children are (still) working under harmful conditions, and to identify and analyse initiatives of governmental and non-governmental organisations to eliminate these worst forms of child labour. In the face of challenges imposed by achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the UN, specific attention was paid to educational initiatives.
Although the evidence from the various cases discussed in the book illustrates positive trends in terms of the worst forms of child labour, thousands of children were still found to be engaged in activities that form a direct threat to their health and jeopardize their education. This book proposes several practical recommendations for possible interventions. It offers a qualitative focus and concentrates on the community level.
Van den Berge, Marten (2010). Trabajo Infantil Rural en el Perú. Comparación del trabajo infantil en la agricultura tradicional y moderna, desde los testimonios de niñas, niños, adolescentes y padres de familia.(Download>>>)
This is the Spanish translation of “Rural Child Labour in Peru. A comparison of child labour in traditional and commercial agriculture” (2009) (Web 6).
de Groot, Afke (2010) Child Labour in Kathmandu, Nepal. Leiden: IREWOC (Web ) (Download>>>)
In spite of the breakthrough of Convention 182, the focus on the worst forms of child labour has been waning. Research indicates that the majority of NGOs work with children who perform light activities for only a few hours a day, which are actually tolerated under the ILO convention 182 norms. At the same time this relative absence of action is paralleled by a lack of information. Vast sectors are structurally overlooked and understudied. Additionally the qualitative material is very poor, excluding the perspectives of the child labourers and their parents.
IREWOC previously conducted research on the “Worst Forms of Child Labour” in Latin America. It was then expanded into Asia. This publication presents Afke de Groot’s study on children in brick kilns, restaurants, and those working as porters in Nepal. Other reports from this project include Anna Ensing’s study on children working in the leather sector and the conditions of working girls in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Nanna Baum’s study on domestic workers in Bangladesh (both in the city and at home in the villages). Additional data is presented by Mariette de Graaf, who studied the working conditions of children involved in Dhaka's leather sector from an occupational hygiene point of view.
Ensing, Anna (2010) Leather gloves and tiny fingers. IIAS Newsletter Number 54 Summer. (Download>>>)
Ensing, Anna (2010) Working girls in Dhaka, between public and private space. IIAS Newsletter Number 55 Autumn/Winter. (Download>>>)
These two articles by Anna Ensing call on her reports for the IREWOC project “Worst Forms of Child Labour in Asia”.
Massardi, Realisa (2010) Mining Black Gold from the Dark Tank. Child Labour in Asphalt and Oil Collection. Central Java, Indonesia. (Download>>>)
In relation to the research project on the Worst Forms of Child Labour in Asia, IREWOC conducted a capacity training workshop in Indonesia in 2008. As a result a number of participants carried out their own independent research on child labour issues in Indonesia. Realisa Massardi researched children involved in collecting leftover asphalt and oil from refinery trucks in Java, Indonesia.
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Katalin Gal studied Psychology (BA, Cardinal Stritch University, USA), Children’s Rights and Educational Sciences (MSc, University of Amsterdam, NL). For her master studies Kat conducted three-month fieldwork resulting in a thesis on ‘Abuse against Children in Kenya’. In 2010, she joined IREWOC for the ‘Violence against Children’ project in Kenya. Kat’s main interests include abuse against children, psychological consequences of child abuse, education and development, and youth conflict. ()
Eowyn Castle studied Politics and International Relations at UWE, Bristol. Here she developed an interest in the dynamics of global power relations and the imbalance between North and South. She went on to complete an MSc Political Science: Conflict and Governance, at the International School for Humanities and Social Sciences (University of Amsterdam), for which she completed a thesis on neighbourhood mediation practice and the ability of ordinary citizens to engage in peacemaking. She then completed an MSc International Development: Children’s Rights, also at the University of Amsterdam, for which she conducted research with working and street children in Kathmandu, Nepal; this led to a Masters thesis 'Voices From the Street: An exploration of the experiences and perceptions of children on and of the street in Kathmandu, Nepal.'
In October 2010, Eowyn joined IREWOC to work on a joint authored publication about child labour in Nepal. The publication will incorporate research conducted in Nepal in recent years by Afke de Groot, Marieke Haitsma and Eowyn Castle. ()
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Recently Completed Project
Street Children in Peru
June 2009 – November 2010; Talinay Strehl & Anna Ensing.
A phenomenon characterising urban areas in developing countries all over the world is the existence of deprived children who depend on the streets for their survival, the so-called ‘street children’. Although street children are among the most physically visible of all children, they are also among the most disadvantaged. They are commonly dispossessed of almost all rights embodied by the 1989 United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child. The circumstances in which these children work and live put them at risk for all forms of exploitation and abuse. Most of them have no access to adequate healthcare, education, social services and (family) protection. They often work under hazardous conditions on the streets and are vulnerable to involvement in the worst forms of child labour.
Street children were a focus of attention in the 1990s, both in intervention strategies and in research. That interest has unfortunately waned in the previous decade, even though the problem has increased. Policy should be compatible with children’s needs, which are influenced by what the children do, why they find themselves on the streets and what they are interested in. By researching this phenomenon, IREWOC hopes to rekindle interest and to generate new insights. The research exposes the reality of street children, which enables us to understand the relation between street children and the organisations that intervene in their name and formulate policy recommendations.
The research was financed by Plan Netherlands, Cordaid and ASN Bank.
IREWOC commenced the research project on street children in Peru in 2009 (Lima and Cusco); it included a quantitative section (mapping the population of street children) and a qualitative section (looking into the needs of the children and existing intervention strategies). This project was completed in August 2010. With further financial support, IREWOC hopes to extend the research into African and Asian cities.
See the publication section above for the resulting reports. The final report is currently being translated into Spanish.
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Child Labour in Nepal
October 2010 - January 2011; Eowyn Castle
During the past few years a number of IREWOC researchers and UvA students, under Professor Lieten's supervision, have conducted research on child labour in Kathmandu, Nepal. IREWOC researcher Eowyn Castle is now editing a joint-authored publication to compile the research reports previously prepared by Afke de Groot, Marieke Haitsma and Eowyn Castle herself. It is intended to provide evidence based insight into specific sectors of work in which children are engaged. The sectors covered are brick kilns, stone quarries, market workers, porters, tea stall and restaurant workers, candy floss sellers, and street children.
Child Labour in the Netherlands
October 2010 - November 2011; Talinay Strehl
The term child labour mostly conjures images of deprived children working under hazardous conditions in poor countries, e.g. in sweatshops, on the streets, in brick kilns or as domestic workers. However, many young children in the Netherlands are also engaged in paid employment, in addition to their compulsory full-time education. In November 2010 IREWOC researcher Talinay Strehl commenced a new research project on work among teenagers in the Netherlands.
The project will involve qualitative and quantitative research to explore the extent and character of paid and unpaid work among school children aged 12-15 years old. Through a child-centred approach we will attempt to reveal the working experiences of children on our own soil. The project is being financed by Stichting Utopa.
Vulnerable Children in Kenya: Fighting Violence to Ensure Education for All
August 2009 - July 2011; Kristoffel Lieten, Nanna Baum, Katalin Gal
In February 2009, the Minister for Development Aid gave the go ahead for the project “Fighting Violence to Ensure Education for All". IREWOC participates in this project within an alliance including DCI/ECPAT, ICDI, Child Helpline International, Plan Nederland and Plan Kenya. The programme aims to fight violence against children (focus on girls) in the poorest communities of the Kenyan capital Nairobi and in the Kwale coastal districts. IREWOC will be conducting the benchmark research at the start and mid-point of the project, as well as the impact study.
After initial preparatory activities in October-December 2009, IREWOC researchers Nanna Baum and Katalin Gal conducted fieldwork in Kenya in February-April 2010 on children’s perceptions of all forms of violence they experience at school, at home and in public domains. In September-October 2010 they both returned for a follow-up study to learn about children’s (non) support-seeking mechanisms and survival strategies when experiencing different forms of violence, and also to understand how adults (parents, teachers, and professionals) support children in cases of abuse. They applied peer-based research methods, involving the selection of a number of local children to act as enquirers. The children were provided with the necessary skills to collect information from their peers about the multiple forms of violence. It proved to be a unique project of participatory research, in which the dynamics of information-gathering depended on the commitment and agency of the school children themselves. Adults (parents and teachers) were also involved in order to gain an understanding of the adult-perspective of the situation and the entire social context. During both research periods an extensive amount of questionnaires and essays were collected, and a large number of focus group discussions and individual interviews were held.
The report from the first qualitative research period (February-April 2010) is under review by Plan Kenya and Plan Nederland. The analysis and report of the second study (September-October 2010) is currently in progress.
Young Child Rights Advocates
In cooperation with our partner in the Dutch Child Rights House, ICDI (International Child Development Initiatives, www.icdi.nl), IREWOC has started working on the Young Child Rights Advocates project. For this project seven young child rights advocates living in economically, politically and socially deprived environments, will be selected and invited for a week’s visit to the Netherlands in May 2011. The candidates are expected to have a clear history of defending the rights of themselves and other children in their neighbourhoods or countries. During the visit they will attend a 2-day seminar in project management and child rights, develop a solid project proposal, generate media attention for the issues they are fighting for, meet other youngsters, policy makers and experts in the field of child rights, and last but not least, enjoy the attractions that the Netherlands has to offer. After returning home, funds will be made available to the young advocates to implement and manage their projects and with this improve the child rights of children around them. The aim of this project is to unite young heroes and to give them the chance to extend their networks, learn from each other and experts, validate their work and efforts, cross borders and overcome barriers. This way, children from economically, politically or socially deprived areas of the world will be given the possibility to voice their problems and a platform to promote their ideals.
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On February 25th 2011 Kristoffel Lieten will give his farewell lecture at the Child Rights House in Leiden (Kinderrechtenhuis).
Kristoffel Lieten, director of IREWOC, has been the Professor of Child Labour at the University of Amsterdam since 2002, mainly focussing on the historic and social aspects of child labour issues. The University Chair was appointed by the International Institute for Social History (IISG).
His farewell lecture “Aap, Noot en Mies, wie maakt hier eigenlijk zijn handen vies?” will discuss childhood and child rights, particularly insights gained through child labour research.
Invitations to the event, along with an official announcement, will be distributed at the beginning of the New Year.
Letter to the Volkskrant
On September 4th 2010, the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant, printed a well-researched article, documenting the misuse of adolescent girls in the garment industry in Tamil Nadu, India. The reaction of the international importers - well-known retail outlets - was to immediately stop all imports from this source. IREWOC director Kristoffel Lieten questioned such a measure in a letter to the newspaper, printed on September 7th (translated by IREWOC):
The reaction of the Western warehouses was predictable: stop all imports! In the past the tendency was to put decisions off, but these days reactions are immediate and come with the message: “believe us, we didn’t know, but now we will do something about it”. Damage control is employed, until the next great big exposure – but who benefits? Not the young girls who had previously been working, nor the lower levels of the local society. They are now out on the streets without an income.
Corporate Social Responsibility assumes that businesses help to improve labour conditions, thus the better strategy would be to caution the local company and to then together put in place a more transparent process, which actively challenges violations of labour laws. In the short-term this would involve helping the girls of legal age working in the local companies to do so in an honest and safe manner, so that they may continue to support themselves and their families.
Although the issue was indeed the undignified exploitation of young workers, an abrupt work stoppage is certainly no solution. If, after an initial warning, the company shows no sign of improvement, you can still decide to break the contract, but surely it would be best to first work towards more positive policies and protocols. Establishing improved local labour laws and conditions is a win-win situation; it would testify to a socially responsible approach – and let this be conducted out in the open.
IREWOC has made a plea for a detailed study of the effects of trade related policies. Without empirically-based findings, it will not be possible to develop sound policies: not using trade-promotion or trade-restricting measures at all may not be possible, neither ethically nor strategically; but blunt policy measures on the other hand may cause more harm than benefits.
For more information on this topic refer to Froukje Gaasterland (2009) Being a Good Girl: The construction of childhood in Tirupur, India. Leiden: IREWOC (Web 6) (Download>>>)
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