The underlying hypotheses
This report sets out the results of the second year of activity of the project concerning child labour as a clause of social exclusion. The assumption at the basis of the trial project, elaborated in the light of the previous sociological analysis that subdivided child labour into a series of categories based on the gravity and influence on the young people's life, was only to consider the milder component of child labour for the pilot action. In other words, seasonal and occasional work carried out within the family economy (helping out in the relatives' economic activity) for necessity or in line with the culture of origin, or activities carried out "Independently" by the young people to obtain money to buy superfluous material goods.
We intentionally didn't include this in our initial set-up as we wanted our intervention given that it was not aimed at looking at the serious exploitation of minors, but more directed at drawing a comparison with marginalised cultures - to represent an initial verification of the validity of our approach and to pinpoint an "exportable" methodology against the future damage and risks of marginalisation provoked by child labour as a centrifugal factor with respect to school.
There were essentially two sociological presuppositions of this set-up: on the one hand, we took social exclusion to mean the future risk of minors with "irregular" life activities, on the other hand, we wanted to use the sociological theories on life courses as an instrument to analysis the young people's conditions, that can also be distinguished in - the light of the precocity of experiences.
However, it is not appropriate to go back over these studies at this point but we will refer to what are, in our opinion, the main arrival points: social exclusion is a condition that has a process condition, determined by a combination of material and immaterial causes of disadvantage that progressively pushes subjects at risk out of or to the margins of the system of social citizenship. In this sense, limited individual resources can have a negative role by not adequately equipping the weak subjects to face up to, in the phases of crisis, the onset of risk. They might have less bows to their arrow to permit them to find a job in the initial stages of adult life or to respond to unemployment if it presents itself as a threat later on in life, or more continuously to elaborate essential strategies based on an effective use of services and opportunities made available by welfare systems and by the institutional structures of the economically advanced countries. One of the resources that is now recognised as being fundamental is education: people with higher levels of education are those who stay in the labour market for longer and also have a greater capacity to socially protect themselves, even by taking advantage of the services system.
It is possible to outline a reflection in these considerations that is now quite advanced in all European countries, that is, the progressive transformation of all welfare systems in a promotional sense, in other words, oriented towards creating opportunities - to place individuals in conditions of autonomy onto the labour Market and at relatively equal starting conditions - which are contributing to the overcoming of the traditional concept of giving assistance to the poor and disadvantaged.
The second presupposition at the basis of our experimentation was that, in the light of profound changes due to the transformation of contemporary societies into post-industrial societies (albeit, this is a general and simplified standpoint), it will be increasingly necessary to look at people's real living conditions to verify how life styles and living conditions are actually changing. From this point of view it was already clear, and this was why it was assumed as one of the presuppositions of our study, that there had been a great socialorganisational mixing of the classical three stages of life courses (study until youth, continuous working and reproductive activity - families in the central stage - and then rest in old age). Of course, the three stage organisation of social roles based on age was only a model and like all sociological models it should be taken with reservation: only with the crisis of the industrialised society has the entire set of rules linked to life times been overturned so much so that we can no longer say that work continuously occupies the adult life course nor that we will retire at the age of 65. In fact we know that nowadays people study longer than in the past, they enter the labour market later, stay their more irregularly and generally leave before.
But Mat about childhood? What place does it have in this framework? In all developed countries there are compulsory scholastic systems and laws that forbid child labour, But also child labour in these countries has changed. It should be mentioned that extreme cases of exploitation are rare, yet young people involved in working activities is very common. The models of life transmitted by the mass media, in spite of the lengthening of young people's dependency on the family economy, push teenagers to want to experience things earlier that is not always possible without money: keeping up with fashion, having a scooter or going to the disco all cost money. What the families canŐt afford or won't give has to be obtained in other ways, either legally (and it should be mentioned that occasional work, even below 18 years of age, are allowed in some countries in Europe, including Germany, one of our transnational partners) or illicitly: 'and here it can even be through prostitution or petty theft.
Our research group saw that in these "stumbles" with adult life (in terms of activities that are not illegal), only some of these elements are extremely negative: the risk of these young people being distracted from school and the habits or values of their age and from the possibility of establishing, even through school, a future that is less exposed to the risks of unstable and teriatised society. In fact work, as every human experience, should be contextualised, and for a marginalised teenager - as sustained by some social workers in the course of our inquiry - it is better for him to have an honest precocious job that teaches him a trade and a serene socialisation rather than being plunged into the ghetto of drugs or long useless hours spent in the suburb bar.
Therefore the trial project was based on the hypothesis of experimenting a didactic methodology, verified with the teachers and approved by the educational authorities, that was capable of pedagogically elaborating these assumptions.
In fact a subordinate hypothesis, that we developed in the various phases of the research and action, was that there is a certain correspondence between work (or some kind of money-making activity) the minors do and scholastic failure.
In the setting-up and realisation stage of the trail, the families were deliberately not involved, given that it would have caused embarrassment if some real cases of child labour was to be discovered, especially since Italian law (in contrast to other legislation, like the German and Irish ones, see Interim Report 1996) forbids any kind of participation in work, unless it is explicitly authorised.