Adverse impact of child labour on children’s health
In 2002 the International Labour Organisation created history when it
launched its first World Day Against the Elimination of Child Labour,
Now, a decade later the number of children trapped in child labour has
not dwindled. Rather, their numbers have leapt spectacularly. An
estimated 215 million children are said to be engaged in some form of
labour while half that number toil in hazardous work.
These children suffer from a wide spectrum of illnesses that are not
always visible as they affect them emotionally, psychologically and
Prof Hemamali Perera, of the Department of Psychological Medicine,
Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, gave us some valuable
insights into this adverse health impacts, stressing that children
needed love, a safe environment and proper nutrition to develop their
Question: Despite the laws and Charters on Child Rights which Sri
Lanka has signed, under-aged children are still being used for different
forms of child labour in Sri LankA. What do you think are the health
impacts on the victims - physical, emotional and psychologically?
Answer: Children have different growth and developmental milestone
attainment at different ages. The World Health Organisation's definition
of a child is used here, which is up to 18 years of age. Growth means
the physical growth, in height, weight and body form.
Development is much broader. Development covers cognitive or
intellectual development, social development, speech and language
development, personal skills development, emotional development,
personality development and moral development.
For such growth and development to happen according to age and in a
healthy manner, children need fulfillment of a wide range of factors
provided for them. For example, without good nutrition, both growth and
development will be affected.
For emotional development, a child needs to be loved and accepted and
feel secure. For social development, a child should grow up in an
environment that would provide guidance, modelling and facilitation in
learning social norms, social limits and boundaries and develop
sensitivity to others so that they can live in harmony with others.
At the same time, children learn about morals, ethics and social
living. Such learning happen in the home, school and other settings and
throughout childhood at different stages.
The impact of child labour, therefore, has to be understood from the
perspective of the extent to which deprivation of these growth and
developmental needs is experienced by a child.
For example, if a child loses the opportunity to receive normal
school- based education that all other children have, he or she will be
deprived of most aspects of development and quality of life in the
If a child loses care, compassion and love provided by the parents
because the child is away from home in a setting where he or she is
treated more like an adult than a child, emotional and personality
development is likely to be seriously affected and the implications
would be many.
Something we must not forget is that children engaged in economic
functions contribute to the family income.
They come from families with a lot of socioeconomic hardships. Such
hardships by themselves cause substantial physical and emotional
adversities in children, which is difficult to separate from that caused
by engaging in economic activities.
In a developing country such as Sri Lanka, social welfare services
are not available specifically and adequately to provide for children,
as in affluent countries.
Therefore, talking about complete elimination of child labour is
unrealistic and impossible to achieve.
At the same time, not all working children can be classified under
child labour. Many are doing so willingly together with their families
such as in small businesses and in agriculture.
Q. So when would economic activity in a child post a violation of his
rights, and cause harm physically, socially and psychologically?
A. Any work that is hazardous and is a potential risk for causing
serious injury should be completely banned. Street circus acts using
child acrobats are prohibited by law in Sri Lanka, even though these
children were well trained and the acts were usually a family affair.
There are known instances of falls from heights and death. Children
and teenagers working at construction sites and quarries if made to
carry loads that are too heavy for their young bodies, there can be
permanent damage to muscles, joints and bones.
A less known form that children are employed is skin diving for
ornamental fish trade where these youngsters may dive and surface
repeatedly without a break.Decompression sickness is a likely outcome
with chronic adverse effects on the brain and joints. Physical damage
can occur through manoeuvring heavy agricultural machinery.
[Child labour - statistics in Sri Lanka]
According to the National Survey on Child Labour, conducted in 1999,
926,037 children living in Sri Lanka are economically active. It is
reported in the survey that 52 percent (475,531) of all working children
are under 15 years of age. The majority of children engaged in economic
activity are boys (62.3 percent), and 95 per cent of all working
children reside in rural areas.
Nearly 60 percent of all working children are reported to be working
as agricultural workers. Among the children working in the urban sector,
the most dominant occupations are classified under the category of ‘shop
sales persons and demonstrators'. The number of child domestic labourers
is estimated to be 19,111 of which a majority are girls from rural
Poverty at the household level is considered as one of the primary
reasons for the prevalence of child labour in Sri Lanka. Studies have
shown that despite improvements in primary school enrolment, school
dropouts at an early stage come from poor families. Recent studies
reveal the number of such dropouts to be around 60,000. Lack of basic
necessities such as food, clothing, school stationery, and bus fare;
lack of support and guidance from parents; parents’ attitude towards
education, and the relevance of the formal education system are all
common reasons for children leaving school at an early age.
Furthermore, many of these children, particularly girls, are forced
to stay home caring for their younger siblings at the expense of their
schooling. Those who drop out from school find their way into the child
Although research methodologies have yet to develop scientifically
proven ways of measuring the exact magnitude and scale of the problem of
trafficking, indications from a number of research studies and from
interventions during the past years have shown that the scope as well as
purposes of trafficking have widened, with many involved in some of the
worst forms of child labour, including commercial sex tourism.
Children are not mature enough to be mindful of danger or take
necessary precautions. Sometimes they have the desire to show off and
can overdo things without realising the implications.
If children are made to work long hours at the expense of education,
recreation and leisure and family life, the psychological and social
implications are heavy. A young girl who works as a domestic help loses
all these essential requirements for healthy development.
Q. Do these adverse health impacts last a life time?
A. Any damage to the skeletal structure and complications resulting
from that can cause chronic disability. Similarly, permanent
neurological damage may occur from head injuries, and back injuries are
Many of the lifelong implications have already been mentioned.
Q. How can they be detected at an early stage?
A. Detecting early is not the solution, but it should be total
prevention. If injury occurs, it had already happened and there is no
return. With regard to developmental and psychological impact, the
longer the duration of deprivation, worse will be the outcome.
Q. Children in domestic work also suffer from different forms of
abuse - sexual abuse, physical abuse, humiliation, constant emotional
abuse by their masters and mistresses. Many are subject to rape to their
masters and the sons as well. Your comments.
A. Employing young children in domestic work is not widely prevalent
as it was before due to new laws in force, although a few unfortunate
cases still surface, where young children have been physically and
sexually abused. What needs more attention I feel, is where an older
girl child is kept back from school to do the housework and look after
the younger siblings while the mother goes to work. Such children are
equally deprived of their rights.
What they contribute to the family may not even be openly and
positively acknowledged but may even be punished for shortcomings. If
opportunity for education is denied, there is a high risk of
continuation of the poverty cycle due to this child ending as an
uneducated mother one day.
Q. What about children who are employed as sex workers?
A. I have heard from reliable sources that in the popular tourism
areas of Sri Lanka, children are made to work in the sex trade sometimes
by their own families, driven by greed for money rather than financial
The children run the risk of contacting serious sexually transmitted
diseases as a result. It is possible that the families are totally
ignorant of the diseases or have the misconceived notion that a boy
child will not get affected. These situations can only be overcome
through wide spread public education, starting from directly targeting
Q. What are the gaps when dealing with victims of child labour in Sri
Lanka? Are there sufficient psychologists, psychiatrists? Trained
A. Of course, Sri Lanka needs more trained psychiatrists and
psychologists. But again, that’s not the issue here. All effort should
be targeted towards prevention rather than wait for problems to emerge
and then deal with them. Sri Lanka needs effective law enforcement to
monitor whether children are engaged in hazardous economic activities,
whether they are made to work for adult time schedules or whether
children below 16 years is employed.
If detected, there has to a mechanism through which such children are
rescued and appropriate measures are taken to prevent repetition. No
intervention will be effective if the root cause is not dealt with. This
basically brings us to poverty and economic hardships of the child’s
family. Social welfare and local government systems in Sri Lanka should
have a mechanism by which vulnerable families are detected and
Q. A child in Sri lanka is someone under 18 years. So during his time
from pre-teens to teens to puberty to young adulthood, he is undergoing
all sorts of changes. Do you see a need for outside intervention if a
parent can’t help the child during these various stages?
A. A group that is hardly spoken about is the children of early and
mid teenage years who drop-out of school early. The drop-out rate
continues throughout secondary school especially in rural areas but also
in urban settings.
The rate is higher in boys. Where do these children go other than to
the labour force? In the rural setting, the majority probably join the
agricultural labour force.
In urban areas, what they may be engaged in would range from minor
self employment projects or working at building sites to criminal
activities such as selling drugs.
They are a vulnerable group who is easily exploitable. These
teenagers are not in school, but they are still children.
Drinking too much water can be risky
Excessive water in your system can dilute your body fluids so much
that the sodium levels become life-threateningly low.
Water may be the elixir of life, but it sure can send your health
into a tailspin, even endanger your life, if you drink too much of it.
While packaged water, juice and cola companies hard-sell their
thirst-quenchers to you through TV and print advertisements, the truth
is that drinking too much water can do you more harm than good. Due to
excessive water consumption, people have died of over-hydration, which
goes by the name of Exercise-Associated Hyponatraemia (EAH). In simple
terms, it means that you have drank too much water and the excess has
diluted your body fluids so much that the sodium levels have become life
threateningly low, causing cells to swell. That includes brain cells
leading to loss of consciousness, seizures and even coma and death. For
long-distance runners, this can be a particular hazard. With
half-marathons and marathons being all the rage, runners while
practicing must resist the temptation to tank themselves up with too
Water intoxication is always on the cards if you believe you have to
‘stay ahead of thirst’ by drinking excessive quantities of fluids. To do
so is entirely un-physiological. Drinking more water than you need
increases your total blood volume and also pressures your kidneys into
working overtime so as to filter excess water out of your circulatory
system. It is, however, incredibly rare for someone to die of
dehydration in a temperate climate, not even sportsmen who sweat a great
deal.When Tennis legends Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal play five
gruelling sets of tennis in the baking sun, sweating profusely, how do
they drink? They sip.
They may sip at every end change, but they certainly don't gulp.
While exercising, you should balance how much water you drink to how
much you are sweating out.
All runners should know that over-consumption of fluids, whether it's
water or sports drinks, can be fatal. EAH due to excessive hydration has
caused at least a dozen deaths worldwide and there have been more than
1,600 documented cases of it around the globe. The International
Marathon Medical Directors Association advocates ‘drinking to thirst’
and no more. That means 0.03 litres per kilogram.
So, for a 100 kg person that's a maximum of three litres. The average
man is around 70 kgs. Work out the math. Five reasons to kick the cola
1. You will flash a prettier smile. The sugar and acid in soft drinks
dissolves tooth enamel while the colouring in darker fizzy drinks leaves
dark stains on teeth.
2. You will reduce your risk of heart disease. The high fructose corn
syrup (HFCS) in many soft drinks increases the risk of developing heart
disease and diabetes.3. You will reduce your risk of osteoporosis. The
phosphoric acid found in soft drinks can loosen a tight bolt, eat away
metal, and leach calcium from the bones.
4. You will reduce your risk of diabetes. The connection between
excess sugar consumption and type 2 diabetes is well-known.
5. You will stabilise blood sugar and energy levels. Simple sugars,
the most harmful of which are HFCS, are carbs that cause a rapid energy
spike followed by a sudden plummet. Adding caffeine, a cola essential,
intensifies this roller-coaster effect.
- Times of India
The importance of a father's diet before conception
When fathers eat a high-fat diet before conception of offspring, the
male offspring have increased body weight after weaning and high body
fat in midlife despite eating a low-fat diet, a new study in mice finds.
“Many researchers have studied the effects of maternal diet on the
risk of obesity in their children. We found that the father's diet also
affects the offspring in ways that are inherited,” said associate
professor of molecular endocrinology at Ohio University in Athens.
The inherited differences in metabolism in the offspring of obese
fathers appear to be epigenetic - changes in how genes are expressed
that are “not hardwired” into the genes, meaning that they are
modifiable by internal and external environmental factors, Nowak said.
The cause of these changes was not behavioural because the offspring did
not observe what their fathers ate nor did they have access to a
high-fat diet, she said. In their study, the researchers fed male mice a
13-week diet that was either high fat (45 percent of calories derived
from fat) or low fat (10 percent of calories from fat; control mice) but
contained the same number of calories. The mice that ate the high-fat
food became obese. All mice were mated with females that had received
the matched low-fat diet. All their offspring received standard
laboratory mouse chow.
The mouse pups underwent testing of their body weight and fat at
various ages: 20 days, which was right after weaning and is similar in
age to human infants or toddlers, according to Nowak; six weeks, which
is roughly equivalent to adolescence; 6 months, or young adulthood; and
finally 12 months, or older adulthood.
Compared with offspring from control mice, the male offspring of
paternal mice with diet-induced obesity had higher body weight starting
at 6 weeks of age, and the increased weight was still present at six and
12 months, the authors reported. In addition, at six months, the male
offspring of the obese paternal mice had a higher percentage of total
body fat than control offspring did. There were, however, no observed
differences in the amount of brown fat, the calorie-burning fat that
both rodents and humans have.
Surprisingly, male offspring of the high-fat-fed paternal mice also
showed increases in voluntary running at 6 weeks. Female offspring ran
more than male offspring at 6 months and 12 months, Nowak said. She said
they are studying possible causes for this behavior, which might offset
the increased body fat and reduce the offspring's risk of metabolic
disease such as diabetes and heart disease.
“Increasing numbers of children and adolescents are affected by
obesity,” Nowak said.