The Ministry of Labour and Social Security, through its International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), has renewed its call on Jamaicans to assist in the campaign to end child labour in the country.
Since 2000, Jamaica has been working with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), to implement a national programme to prevent and eliminate child labour, says Director of the Child Labour Unit (CLU) at the Ministry, Mrs. Marva Ximminies.
“The issue of child labour continues to emerge in Jamaica, which is seriously robbing our children of their childhood and the right to an education,” she tells JIS News in an interview.
She informs that to properly address this growing trend, the Unit has approached the problem from four angles, which involve: building knowledge base, building capacity with social partners, providing direct support through non-governmental organisations (NGO), and creating awareness about child labour.
Additionally, Mrs. Ximminies says the Unit has been exploring a number of avenues, geared at sensitising the public about the effects of child labour, and how it infringes on the human rights and social justice of children in Jamaica.
Some of the avenues include: seminars, brochures, and public forums geared at providing information to the public regarding child labour.
Notably, the Director informs that not all work performed by children are targeted as cases of child labour, such as a child assisting his or her mother in the market after school.
“While we are not targeting all work that is done by children for elimination, we definitely are targeting the worst cases of child labour for immediate eradication, which involve: child trafficking, debt bondage, forced labour, drug related activities, and commercial sexual exploitation,” Mrs. Ximminies tells JIS News.
She points out that over the years, the issue of child labour has not been given adequate attention, despite the ramifications associated with this immoral trend.
“As a result of the rising number of cases, in 2004 we had the passage of ‘The Child Care and Protection Act', which provided for the first time, a legislation that spoke to activities related to child labour,” she explains.
“It speaks to the minimum age at which children can be employed (13 years), the conditions under which they can be employed, and where they can be employed,” the Director adds.
She further informs that most children who are involved in child labour, are engaged through the informal sector, which the IPEC intends to eliminate over time.
Mrs. Ximminies points out that in Jamaica, it is customary for children to be taken out of school to help generate income, which oftentimes occurs in a single parent family, where the mother has to support four or more young children.
The Director tells JIS News that this practice interrupts the children’s education, and limits their chance of reaching their fullest potential through proper schooling.
She emphasises that as a country, “we have to expose children to adequate educational opportunities, where they can be provided with the necessary numeracy and literacy skills to make them viable, so they can be better prepared for the working world."
“If we fail to do so, it will mean that in 2030, we will not have a group of skilled persons, from which we will be able to draw to fill whatever occupational groupings that we are trying to fill. It is extremely important that our children remain in school, and are given the opportunity to be children,” the Director says.
The 2030 timeframe is very important as the country’s National Development Plan (Vision 2030 Jamaica) has targeted that date for the country to attain developed country status.
This is the country’s first long-term national development plan, which is based on a comprehensive vision: “Jamaica, the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business."
The Director tells JIS News that it is through recreation that the development of a child takes place, adding that, “at this stage, children learn to deal with conflicts, solve problems, and identify themselves, and child labour, to a large extent, prevents them from enjoying their childhood."
Importantly, she says that parents should ensure that their children are enrolled in school at the primary level, which is compulsory and free for all. This, she adds, encourages the development of different forms of secondary education available and accessible to every child in Jamaica.
The Director informs that the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education (PATH), fully supports the elimination of child labour, and continues to assist vulnerable children to stay in school.
Mrs. Ximminies notes that the new ‘Occupational Safety and Health Act’, which is to be passed in 2012, will permit the CLU to conduct investigations in all business sectors (formal and informal), in an effort to identify cases of child labour islandwide.
“We are definitely tackling child labour through education, and persons who are found to be in breach of ‘The Child Care and Protection Act' can be fined up to $500,000, or face sentencing,” she explains.
The Director is encouraging the public to report cases of child labour to the CLU at: 948-0098, or the Ministry at 922-9500-14.
By Jeneva Gordon, JIS PRO