KINGSTON — Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon. Pearnel Charles, has announced that the Tackling Child Labour Through Education (TACKLE) Jamaica project will be spending some $25 million to help build policies and promulgate appropriate legislation to combat the incidence of child labour in Jamaica.
The Minister, who was addressing the TACKLE Jamaica Stakeholders’ Consultation at the Wyndham New Kingston Hotel, on September 7, observed that some 16,000 children in Jamaica are involved in child labour and other kinds of labour related abuse.
Mr. Charles noted that the majority of child labourers are boys, which creates an urgent need for a special programme targeting abused boys. “Our children are up against it and of the number involved, studies indicate that some 7,000 are engaged in prostitution, pornography and slave labour, predominantly males,” he said.
Sectors which show the highest incidence of child labour are Agriculture, which accounts for some 60 per cent, followed by manufacturing and wholesale businesses.
The Minister said Jamaica, in harmony with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, is committed to eliminating the problem, and that education is critical to the process. “The longer a child remains in school, the better he or she will be able to find gainful employment in later life,” he said.
Mr. Charles urged members of civil society, including the church and labour unions, to partner with the Government to eliminate the problem. “We are working to put child labour in the curriculum of all schools, we are sensitising the police and we need to get parents to understand that it is a social crime to take the child out of school,” he said.
He emphasised that the Ministry would not tolerate this kind of child abuse and appealed for stronger partnerships to arrest the practice.
Meanwhile, Minister of Education, Hon. Andrew Holness, who also addressed the meeting, pledged the continued support of the Ministry.
He said child labour is tantamount to slavery as, very often, the affected children are either underpaid or not paid, and in many instances are exposed to hazardous situations
The Minister emphasised that when parents make the sacrifice of investing in the education of their children, they are investing not only in the future of their country, but in the welfare of the child. “In Jamaica, for many parents, the need to survive can tempt them to pull their child from school to engage them in labour. We need to keep the child in school in order to invest in the future. We must realise that long term development sometimes involves short term sacrifices,” he said.
Mr. Holness explained that the national registration programme requiring that all children between the ages of three and 16 must be registered, is designed to ensure that these age cohorts are in school. “The national student registry will be matched against the census data, to see if there is a differential. Too many students who should be in school, are not in school,” he said.
The Minister is urging persons to report instances of school absenteeism and child labour to the relevant authorities, because, ultimately, they will present a threat to society. “Report it to the police, the Ministry of Education and, of course, approach the offending parents. A child in school is a child out of a gang,” he declared.
TACKLE is a four-year project involving the governments of 11 participating African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC).
With funding support of €14.75 million from the European Union, countriesare chosen on the basis of the joint EU-ACP commitment to eliminate the worst forms of child labour as stated in Article 50 of the Cotonou Agreement. The selected countries are all in the lower half of the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Human Development Index.
The purpose of the TACKLE Project is to strengthen the capacity of national and local ACP authorities in the formulation, implementation and enforcement of policies to fight child labour, in co-ordination with social partners and civil society.
Within the overall strategy of the project, a key theme is the strengthening of formal and informal education, to enable a more effective and efficient response to the issue of child labour.
By Allan Brooks, JIS Senior Reporter