KINGSTON — Jamaica will join the world in observing World Day Against Child Labour, on Sunday, June 12.
As the International Labour Organization (ILO) continues its drive to eradicate the worst forms of child labour, the day will be observed under the theme, ‘Children in Hazardous Work’.
Child Labour, a form of child abuse, constitutes any work done by children which is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to them, and interferes with their schooling.
Speaking at a press briefing on Friday June 10 at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Minister Hon. Pearnel Charles said that over the past decade, there has been a dramatic increase in focus on the issue of child labour.
He said that the Government has been fully committed to supporting the Child Labour Unit, adding that “we are adamant about enforcing the laws under the Child Care and Protection Act”.
“We do recognize that many of our children are faced with adverse circumstances, and so the Government, through the Programme for Advancement through Health and Education (PATH), expended $3.8 billion in the last financial year and this year, $4.2 billion. Additionally, we have been supporting our youths through a number of special education programmes,” he said.
Mr. Charles noted that the children are the future, therefore attempts to involve children in work that will impede their education and development should be resisted.
“We cannot afford to jeopardize the physical, mental or moral well-being of our children,” he added, noting that the Government is dedicated to efforts being spearheaded by the ILO to eliminate child labour.
Based on the Child Care and Protection Act, it is illegal for children under 15 years old to be engaged in any form of work, but a youth activity survey, conducted in 2002 by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN), estimated that 16,000 children were involved in some form of economic activity. Of this number, a little over 7,000 were engaged in more 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 larger metropolitan areas of Kingston, Spanish Town and Montego Bay are the epicentres of commerce, as well as urban child labour. Jamaica’s child labourers are predominantly male, aged 15 to 17 years.
There is some research to suggest that many children, particularly boys living in harsh urban communities, are pressed into gangs for whom they provide labour, and many young girls are pushed into domestic servitude to older lovers.
Many of the children who are at risk, or are currently child labourers in urban areas, can best be reached through direct action in their communities. Thus, activities aimed at eliminating child labour must focus on raising awareness and promoting behavioural change in children (10-16) and their guardians. This is done through trusted mechanisms rooted in sports, which have traditionally been an avenue of escape from poverty for young Jamaicans.
Persons who wish 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. Since its inception in January 2007, the OCR has received over 20,000 reports of child abuse, with over 3,000 received since the start of 2011.
By CHRIS PATTERSON, JIS Reporter