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Sunday, 12 June 2016

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Ending child labour

Child labour is one of the biggest social issues facing the world, especially the developing world, though the developed world is not free from this scourge. Children as young as five are employed for hard labour in some parts of the world, not to mention the use of children as soldiers by some terrorist groups.

What is child labour? Child labour means work that is prohibited for children of certain age groups. It is work performed by children who are under the minimum age legally specified for that kind of work, or work which, because of its detrimental nature or conditions, is considered unacceptable for children and is prohibited. The acceptable age for paid labour varies from 14 to 16 globally.

There are grey areas as well - if your own child aged 12 works in your general store or the paddy land to help you out, does that count as child labour? However, even the UN recognises that children between the ages of 13 and 15 years old may do light work, as long as it does not threaten their health and safety, or hinder their education or vocational orientation and training.

According o the UN and the International Labour Organization (ILO), around 215 million children work, many full-time. New ILO estimates suggest that there are about 317 million economically active children aged 5 to 17, of whom 218 million could be regarded as child labourers. Of the latter, 126 million were engaged in hazardous work. The 2002 ILO Global Report indicated that the vast majority (70 per cent) of children's work is concentrated in the agricultural sector and that the informal economy harbours most child labour across all economic sectors.

These children do not go to school and have little or no time to play. Many do not receive proper nutrition or care. They are denied the chance to be children. More than half of them are exposed to the worst forms of child labour such as work in hazardous environments, slavery, or other forms of forced labour, illicit activities including drug trafficking and prostitution, as well as involvement in armed conflict. Girls predominate in domestic work, while boys are heavily represented in mining and quarrying.

Around the world, large numbers of children are engaged in paid or unpaid domestic work in the home of a third party or employer. These children can be particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Their work is often hidden from the public eye, they may be isolated, and they may be working far away from their family home. They are generally paid very poor salaries, if at all. Stories of the abuse of children in domestic work are all too common.

Today, the World Day Against Child Labour (June 12) the world is focusing attention on this problem. The Day was launched in 2002 to focus attention on the global extent of child labour and the action and efforts needed to eliminate it. Each year on 12 June, the World Day brings together governments, employers and workers organisations, civil society, as well as millions of people from around the world to highlight the plight of child labourers and what can be done to help them.

World Day Against Child labour 2015 calls for: Free, compulsory and quality education for all children at least to the minimum age for admission to employment and action to reach those presently in child labour; New efforts to ensure that national policies on child labour and education are consistent and effective; Policies that ensure access to quality education and investment in the teaching profession.

Sri Lanka, while not entirely free of child labour, has made vast strides in eliminating it. The LTTE was known for using child soldiers as young as 8-9 in the battlefield, despite several promises to the international community. This issue is no longer a valid concern following the group's defeat. Sri Lanka has now made education compulsory until year 13, which should more or less automatically end the problem of child labour. There is also greater awareness on child labour and the National Child Protection Authority's proactive role has also combated the problem. There is also a hotline for people to complain about physical, verbal and sexual abuse of children. Laws too have been strengthened to protect children from child labour and other forms of abuse.

Child labour is necessarily a human rights problem, because these children are denied an opportunity to live a decent life. They are denied the right to education, play and rest compared to children who live with their parents and are not subjected to child labour. While there is a link between poverty and child labour (some children are forced to work because their parents are unable to do or find a job), it is not the only factor. The ILO observes that the most vulnerable groups when it comes to child labour are often those subject to discrimination and exclusion: girls, ethnic minorities and indigenous and tribal peoples, those of low caste, people with disabilities, displaced persons and those living in remote areas.

The good news is that child labour is declining around the world as observed by the ILO with tougher laws around the world taking effect. However, there is a new challenge and new fear - that thousands of migrant children fleeing conflict zones could end up being trafficked and abused. This problem has to be tackled soon.

Child labour will not go away overnight, until and unless all countries take concrete action to end it. In fact, an ILO action plan proposes that the International Labour Organization and its member States continue to pursue the goal of the effective abolition of child labour by committing themselves to the elimination of all worst forms of child labour by 2016. It is doubtful whether this goal can be achieved this year, but many countries have started work on achieving this goal.

There have been some success stories in ending child labour in specific sectors - prior to the adoption of Law No. 22 of May 2005 on the import, employment, training and participation of children in camel racing, there were between 200 and 300 children from 6 to 13 years of age (all from Sudan) used in camel racing and exposed to serious injuries. It has noted that since the promulgation of Law No. 22 of 2005, and the adoption of a number of practical measures, there has been no recourse by camel owners to using children as camel jockeys. These are important victories on the road to a world without child labour - a goal that all countries should be firmly committed to.

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