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Policy Entrepreneurship Workshop for Child Workers in Asia

Time (GMT +01) 00:00 23:59


Naved Chowdhury - ODI

This training workshop on Policy Entrepreneurship was facilitated by Naved Chowdhury as part of the capacity development support provided to southern CSOs by the Civil Society Partnerships Programme. The workshop was hosted by Child Workers in Asia (CWA) and Underprivileged Children's Education Programme Bangladesh (UCEP).

Child Workers in Asia (CWA) was established in 1985 as a support group for child workers in Asia, and the NGOs working with them. From a small group of five organizations, it now brings together over 70 groups / organisations working on child labour in 14 countries. It facilitates the sharing of expertise and experiences between NGOs and strengthens their collaboration to jointly respond to the exploitation of working children in the region. For the last fifteen years, CWA has been a venue for interaction between big and small NGOs. The network has strived to contribute to the development of the understanding of the situation of children who work and are exploited. It has tried its best to support the emergence of local actions for working children and for the promotion of children's rights. CWA currently has links with organisations in: Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Hong Kong.

This 'Policy Entrepreneurship for Members of Child Workers in Asia' Workshop was organised in Dhaka by UCEP-Bangladesh (Underprivileged Children's Education Programs) and supported by ODI (Overseas Development Institute). The workshop was conducted through ODI's Civil Society Partnerships Programme (CSPP). The objective of the workshop was to expose CWA partners to current theory and practice of evidence-based policymaking and to assist them in developing a strategy to strengthen work towards eliminating Bonded Child Labour in Asia. There were 24 participants from South and South East Asia, mainly from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Indonesia, the Philippines and Bangladesh.

The workshop began with an opening address given by Ms. Jacquelyn Pinat of CWA secretariat. In her speech she expressed the hope that the workshop would contribute towards enhancing the policy analysis and advocacy skills of the participants. Regarding their expectations of the workshop, the following points were mentioned: (i) Sharing of information and knowledge on advocacy at the regional and national level; (ii) discussion on how research can influence policy advocacy and its practical application, especially on impacting the legal framework on child labour and human rights; and (iii) sharing of information on ways to use research in the policy advocacy activities of CWA and for each partner nationally.

Several cases studies were presented during the workshop. The first one addressed the issue of abolition of the Komaiya system (Bonded Child Labour) in Nepal. While discussing this issue it was revealed that advocacy for the abolition of this system in Nepal was first actively taken up by civil society in 1990. The activities until now have been advocating towards establishing a legal framework in Nepal which will make it illegal and therefore the komaiya system will cease to exist. This has been going on through the engagement of the komiaya themselves, civil society and law makers in Nepal. The campaign has proven to be quite successful: the Komaiya system was declared illegal in 2000 by the government, whereas previously the policymakers had denied its existence. Unfortunately however the implementation of the law has been very limited. Komaiyas still exist and it is very difficult for them to contribute to society as the government has not done enough for their reintegration and rehabilitation.

The second case study detailed the National Plan of Action on the abolition of bonded child labour in Pakistan and highlighted the intricate nature of this and other issues in Pakistan. Politicians who are themselves feudal lords employ bonded child labour and therefore they lack any political will to eradicate this moral and social evil. Consequently research and advocacy carried out by various human rights organisations so far has had limited success in Pakistan.

While discussing and analysing the case studies presented the participants identified a number of issues around policy and research processes which were crosscutting in these countries:

  • Many polices are made as responses to certain crisis instead of long term planning and through discussion between various stakeholders, consequently the impact of these polices has been very limited;
  • Research depends on quality data and frequently the robustness and rigour of the research is contested not only by policymakers but also other researchers;
  • Credibility of the research and legitimacy of the CSOs are frequently questioned by the policy makers;
  • While there exists rich experience of advocacy, unfortunately the research and policy analysis capacity of CSOs is limited;
  • Coordination between the stakeholders is often poor and most importantly there is a clear lack of trust of policymakers by the CSOs, which makes the engagement acrimonious and difficult.

Other policy challenges include:

  • The realisation that bonded child labour is a problem defined by the social, cultural and political histories of a particular community;
  • The issue of bonded child labour is complex, and therefore to fight against it an integrated approach is needed.
  • Interventions will remain incomplete unless land, parents, employment, education, health and gender issues are tackled simultaneously.
  • Comprehensive laws exist in India and Pakistan, but the problem perpetuates with the lack of enforcement mechanisms or the lengthy or costly provisions required to go through with any case. Law enforcement, therefore, calls for a strong political will of the states and vigilance among civil society members.

In national policy making, community knowledge aspirations are rarely respected. Promoting respect for community knowledge and the people's right to be key actors are crucial. The other challenge lies in the capacity building of local institutions, including elected bodies, in governance, research, documentation, etc. Moreover scattered across the region are hundreds of small grassroots NGOs directly working on the problems confronting bonded children and their families. It is important to locate them and build links across the region to tap on the wealth of human resources, initiatives, and lessons these small groups have generated.

Based on research over the last few years, ODI's RAPID Programme has developed a framework to help researchers identify the key factors influencing research-policy linkages in their own situation. These factors fall into four groups: the political context (political and economic structures and processes, culture, institutional pressures, incremental vs. radical change etc); the evidence (credibility, the degree it challenges received wisdom, research approaches and methodology, simplicity of the message, how it is packaged etc); the links between policy and research communities (networks, relationships, power, competing discourses, trust, knowledge etc); and external influences (socio-economic and cultural influences, donor policies etc).

On the second day of the workshop while discussing the necessity of coordination between CWA secretariat and the partners in the countries it was emphasised that ultimately the improved links between the members and their shared vision on collaboration is what drives CWA forward. It was also emphasised that while any organisation is a partner of CWA, it also has its individual identity and that this needs to be understood. The research, it was felt, should not only be aware of the needs of the target audience, therefore making the research demand driven, but in addition the purpose of the research should be for better understanding and generating knowledge and analysis on any specific issue. The Policy Entrepreneurship Questionnaire' which analyses different skills of people in regard to policy advocacy was also accepted with lots of interest.

The tools presented for policy advocacy were used successfully by the participants. Several issues were highlighted while the participants used the tools (force field and problem tree analysis) in their specific context:

  • The need of the local community may not match the issue as identified by CSOs.
  • There needs to be a balance between the broader objective of CWA and the activities of its partners in specific contexts and if one or other dominates then the success of CWA will be limited as a network.
  • In addition to quantitative studies, other tools such as story telling could be an effective way of getting the attention of various stakeholders.

In their evaluation of the event, most participants felt the workshop to be very useful for their work. While the content and the presentation of the materials was appreciated, some felt that two days was too short to digest all the information. It was therefore advised to extend the workshop for another day or a half. The participants were eager to use the knowledge gained at the workshop and also to make valuable contribution towards CWA in order to be more effective in its endeavours towards elimination of the worst forms of child labour in Asia.


The objective of this workshop was to expose CWA partners to current theory and practice of evidence-based policymaking and to assist them in developing a strategy to strengthen work towards eliminating bonded child labour in Asia.

There were 24 participants from South and South East Asia, mainly from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Indonesia, the Philippines and Bangladesh.

Dhaka, Bangledesh