Children are devastatingly honest and innocent though sometimes naughty. That is why we have been warned that if a serious physical or mental harm is caused to a child the guilty person should be thrown into the deepest ocean with a millstone tied around his neck.
The story is told of how a child went with his parents to see an ailing relative nearby.
At the child’s home, there were two bunches of king coconut and the father told the mother to keep the bigger bunch and take the other one to the relative. When they went there the child sincerely told the relative that the father had wanted the bigger bunch kept for them and the smaller one given to the relative. The father was horrified and when he came home the child was given a severe caning for telling the truth. If such are the lessons we teach to children it is not surprising to see the overall moral decay in society. Some experts say that if we spare the rod we will spoil the child but most social analysts disagree and say that corporal punishment is not the answer. The children could be corrected and put on the right path if the parents set the right example.
Such reflections come to mind when we think of the United Nations World Day Against Child Labour. The event was marked on June 12. In a statement the world body says The COVID-19 health pandemic and the resulting economic and labour market shock are having a huge impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. Unfortunately, children are often the first to suffer. The crisis can push millions of vulnerable children into child labour.
According to the UN already, there are an estimated 152 million children in child labour, 72 million of whom are in hazardous work. These children are now at even greater risk of facing circumstances that are even more difficult and working longer hours.
Around the world, children are routinely engaged in paid and unpaid forms of work that are not harmful to them. However, they are classified as child labourers when they are either too young to work, or are involved in hazardous activities that may compromise their physical, mental, social or educational development. In the least developed countries, slightly more than one in four children (ages 5 to 17) are engaged in labour that is considered detrimental to their health and development. Africa ranks highest among regions both in the percentage of children in child labour - one-fifth and the total number of children in child labour - 72 million. Asia and the Pacific ranks second highest in both these measures - 7% of all children and 62 million in absolute terms are in child labour in this region.
Africa, Asia and the Pacific regions together account for almost nine out of every ten children in child labour worldwide. The remaining child labour population is divided among the America (11 million), Europe and Central Asia (6 million), and the Arab States (1 million). In terms of incidence, 5% of children are in child labour in America, 4% in Europe and Central Asia, and 3% in the Arab States.
The UN says while the percentage of children in child labour is highest in low-income countries, their numbers are actually greater in middle-income countries. Nine percent of all children in lower-middle-income countries, and 7% of all children in upper-middle- income countries, are in child labour. Statistics on the absolute number of children in child labour in each national income grouping indicate that 84 million children in child labour, accounting for 56% of all those in child labour, actually live in middle-income countries and an additional 2 million live in high-income countries.
What is the situation in Sri Lanka? We have a special police unit for women and children and wide-powered National Child Protection Authority (NCPA). But many middle-income or wealthy families are known to employ children for housework, the excuse is that the children would otherwise starve on the street. Even if that is the case such families have a moral responsibility to provide for the education and healthcare and other needs, otherwise they will drop the children of their childhood and it is a grave crime.