KINGSTON — For centuries, children worldwide have been experiencing some form of child labour and, in worse case scenarios, forced to work in even hazardous conditions.
Child Labour, a form of abuse, constitutes any work done by children which is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous, harmful to them and interferes with their schooling.
In Jamaica, under the Child Care and Protection Act, it is an offence to employ a child under 13 years old. The law does make an exception for children 13 to 15 years old to be employed, but they should only do light work. Children 15 and over must not be employed in night work or in any industrial or hazardous work. It is also an offence for a child to be used for indecent or immoral purposes.
According to a youth activity survey conducted in 2002 by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN), some 16,000 children are involved in some form of economic activity in Jamaica, with over 7,000 of them engaged in hazardous work.
The survey also revealed that the main child labourers were street children (including market vendors, mainly in urban areas), commercial agricultural labourers, domestic helpers and urban formal sector workers.
The wider metropolitan areas of Kingston, Spanish Town and Montego Bay were listed as the epicentres of commerce, as well as urban child labour.
Jamaica’s child labourers are predominantly male, aged 15 to 17 years. There is research to suggest that many children, particularly boys living in harsh urban communities, are pressed into gangs for whom they provide labour, while many young girls are pushed into domestic servitude to older lovers.
Last Sunday (June 12), Jamaica joined the rest of the world in observing World Day Against Child Labour (WDACL), under the theme: ‘Children in Hazardous Work’.
Speaking recently on the issue, Chairman of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Project Advisory Board, Errol Miller said the activity has a negative effect on children.
“By its very nature and circumstance, it either threatens to, or harms, the health, safety, well-being and morals of the children. Children in hazardous work are found in many different countries or occupations, in both developed and developing countries. Essentially robbed of the opportunity to be just kids and exposed to great risk and dangers,” he said.
It is for these reasons that the Government of Jamaica is redoubling its efforts to fight this malady, that seems to have taken root in Jamaican society, he said.
One of its initiatives is the TACKLE Project, which aims to provide access to basic education and skills training for disadvantaged children and youth, and to strengthen the capacity of national and local authorities to formulate, implement and enforce policies to tackle child labour.
The project was implemented in 2009, under the auspices of the ILO, with financial support from the European Commission and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states, which includes Jamaica.
National Project Officer for the TACKLE Project, Nasalo Thompson, stressed that child labour not only affect youngster’s growth, but also makes it very difficult for them to break the cycle of poverty.
He said that in households where children are involved in child labour, the families continue to be more impoverished overtime, not less impoverished.
“The children’s contribution to the household, financially, might be an immediate respite from very difficult circumstances but, in the long run, that child and those children’s children continue to be impoverished,” he states.
She highlighted that not all work done by children is classified as illegal child labour. Children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development, or interfere with their schooling, is generally regarded as positive.
These activities include helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business, or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. These kinds of activities contribute to children’s development and the welfare of their families, and provide them with skills, experience and help to prepare them to become productive adults.
She also noted that the ILO’s most recent global estimate is that 115 million children are involved in hazardous work.
Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon Pearnel Charles, says the Government has been fully committed to supporting the Child Labour Unit, and enforcing the laws under the Child Care and Protection Act. He assured of the dedication of the Government to the efforts being spearheaded by the International Labour Organisation to eliminate Child Labour.
“We remain committed to the spirit and letter of the ILO Minimum Age Convention of 1973, and welcome the campaign by the ILO, involving noted Jamaican celebrities and national leaders, to raise awareness about the problem of child labour,” he said.
The ILO is the United Nations’ agency responsible for implementing and monitoring international labour standards. It is the only 'tripartite' UN agency that brings together representatives of governments, employers and workers to jointly shape policies and programmes promoting Decent Work for all.
In the continued fight against child labour, several public figures have come on board to act as Anti-Child Labour Ambassadors. They include: musician Ibo Cooper (who also produced the Child Labour theme song ‘Let us Try’); Professor Carolyn Cooper; actress/writer, Joan Andrea Hutchinson; DJ, Tony Rebel; actress, Claudette Pious; gospel artiste, Prodigal; singer, Queen Ifrica; former Miss Jamaica World, Regina Beavers; and singer, Aisha Davis.
We all have a role to play in eradicating Child Labour. One of the most important first steps is to inform the Children’s Registry of suspected cases. Persons wishing to report cases of child labour may contact the Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR), by calling 1-888-PROTECT (1-888-776-8323) or 908-2132.
The penalties for child labour range from $500,000 and six months imprisonment, to $1 million, 1 year imprisonment and the revocation of licenses of persons or entities which employ children for indecent purposes and knowingly allowing their premises to be used for such purposes.
By CHRIS PATTERSON, JIS Reporter