[Press release] Child labour in Quebec: we must go beyond protection and allow children to take part in the debate

loi travail des enfants Québec

Current events highlight a major gap in Quebec’s respect for children’s rights: at present, there is no law in the province to regulate child labour. It is the only province that has never legislated on the subject, despite the country’s international commitments. While the International Bureau for Children’s Rights (IBCR) welcomes the Quebec government’s initiative to introduce a bill on the subject, we must nevertheless draw attention to certain issues raised by this bill.

Firstly, the draft law seems to be based almost solely on the recommendations and needs expressed by trade unions, employers’ associations[1] and institutions[2]. As far as we know, no children or organisations representing them were invited to take part in the discussions leading to the drafting of the bill. This raises questions about the neutrality of the recommendations made and their alignment with children’s rights in the face of major economic considerations.

Furthermore, the presumed absence of children in the elaboration of this bill raises questions about its relevance to their realities. Are we going to make a law that directly affects children without giving them the opportunity to participate in the debate, to give an account of their experience and to express their views? This would constitute a breach of their rights as set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Canada in 1991, in particular the right to participation.

How can we claim to pass a law to “protect” them without even consulting them?

The Convention on the Rights of the Child states in Article 32 that a child shall be “protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development”; states that have ratified the Convention – of which Canada is one – must also set a minimum age for employment. Canada also ratified the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 138 on Minimum Age in 2016, which commits it to “progressively raise the minimum age for admission to employment or work to a level which permits adolescents to attain the fullest physical and mental development”, so its provinces must act to regulate this practice.

In order for the expected legislation to reflect what children are really experiencing and to take into account their rights and best interests, we urge the Quebec government to include them in the discussion to go further than just protecting them. Without this, we risk failing to respect their rights.

[1] Source : Article « Québec déposera un projet de loi sur le travail des enfants en début d’année » Radio-Canada, 12 december 2022

[2] Through the Comité consultatif du travail et de la main-d’œuvre (CCTM) https://www.travail.gouv.qc.ca/a-propos/comite-consultatif-du-travail-et-de-la-main-doeuvre/

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