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Child labour:

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 physically.

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 full potential.

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 future.

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 areas.

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 labour market.

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 often permanent.

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 hardships.

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 school children.

Q. What are the gaps when dealing with victims of child labour in Sri Lanka? Are there sufficient psychologists, psychiatrists? Trained Counselors?

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 supported.

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 much water.

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.

- MNT

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