According to the United Nations’ Charter, every child has the right to a healthy start in life. Fathers, mothers, families and communities should be made aware of the importance of maternal and child health and early childhood care, prevention and development. Children have a right to education. They should have access to a safe, healthy and child-friendly learning environment where they are taught by competent teachers. Parents and caregivers should make optimal use of these learning environments to support the development of their children. The State should assume responsibility for the provision of quality education to all children and should hold to account accordingly.
Children have a right to economic security and the right to protection from all forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence. They have the right to protection and assistance in emergencies and improved resilience to natural and man-made hazards. They are entitled to these rights without distinction of any kind such as ethnicity, colour, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Further, in terms of the U.N. Charter, mankind owes the child the best it deserves.
Children deprived of their legitimate rights
However, whether these opportunities are guaranteed to every child; irrespective of distinction of any kind is a matter to be questioned. The fact in reality is that a large number of children of poor parents are not only deprived of these opportunities but are also subject to serious harassment by being engaged in forced labour.
What is child labour?
Child labour is in fact the deprivation of a child of his/her legitimate right to a healthy start to life by being forcibly engaged in the work of elders when he/she is expected to prepare for the future. It refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives them of their childhood, interferes with the ability to attend regular school and that which is mentally, physically, socially, or morally dangerous and harmful. Forceful employment of children in work amounts to exploitation.
Victims of child Labour
Generally the children from poor and unprivileged families are the victims of forced child labour. The gap between the rich and the poor is broadening rapidly and consequently the number of children engaged in labour is increasing. 215 million children between 5 to 17 years of age are currently working under conditions considered illegally hazardous or extremely exploitative. Under-aged children work in all sorts of jobs around the world usually because they and their families are extremely poor. Some children work in illegal activities like drug peddling and prostitution or other traumatic activities such as those which cause shock and upset the worker very much. Out of the estimated 215 million child labourers around the globe, 114 million (53%) are in Asia and the Pacific, 14 million (07%) in Latin America and 65 million (30%) in Sub Saharan Africa. It would appear that the main cause for child labour is poverty.
Lack of meaningful alternatives
Lack of meaningful alternatives, such as the in availability of affordable schools with quality education is also a factor driving children to harmful labour. When the parents find that they cannot afford to give quality education to the children, they opt to find jobs for them often in a bid to provide on job training and also earning an income to the family. Young children often find jobs in hotels, restaurants and in retail trade to serve at their will and wish.
In some countries, child labour has been rationalized under certain cultural beliefs presuming that work was good for character-building and skills development. It is argued that children should follow their parents’ footsteps from the early days of life.
Need for additional hands on peak days
Families engaged in agriculture need additional hands to attend to extra work on days of harvesting, transplanting and ploughing. They cannot afford to hire labour on such days due to economic hardships. On such days, they keep their children at home without sending them to school either for help in the field or to look after their young siblings while their parents attend to the affairs in the field. Some children prefer to do some work than to learn lessons in the schools. Some of them opt to work for outsiders and earn some money.
Belief that girls need no education
There was a time when the villagers believed that their female children need not be educated. Some of them learnt only to read and write while some others never went to school. Some of those, who had no school education, prospered in life while those who had school education amidst the reluctance of their parents and elders in later life could work even in foreign countries as domestic aides.
Areas in which children are employed
Children provide cheap labour or are forced to work at lower rates or without any wages. Hence, child labour is profitable for the employers. Poor parents sometimes compel their children to work and earn an income when they find it difficult to make ends meet with strenuous work they do. An estimated 60% of child labour is involved in agriculture, fishing, hunting (in some countries) and forestry. Children are employed in harvesting banana in Ecuador, cotton in Egypt, cut flowers in Colombia, oranges in Brazil, cocoa in Ivory Coast, tea in Argentina and Bangladesh and fruits and vegetables in the United States. Children in commercial agriculture are often made to work long hours in extreme temperatures and they face health risks due to the use of pesticides and very often they are forced to work for little or no wages without adequate food and sanitation.
About 14 million children are estimated to be directly involved in manufacturing goods, weaving carpets, in the footwear industry, glass and brick factories in India, apparel industry in Bangladesh, fireworks factories in China and surgical instrument factories in Pakistan.
Children working in underground mines and quarries suffer serious health hazards and injuries. Children are also employed in mixing operations, including gold in Colombia, charcoal in Brazil, chrome in Zimbabwe, emeralds in Colombia and coal in Mongolia.
Many children, especially girls work in domestic service. Some of the domestic aides start to work at a very young age of five or six without going to school at all. Domestic child labourers are likely to be the victims of physical, emotional, and even sexual abuse and it is linked to child trafficking as well.
Young children employed in hotels, restaurants, and in retail trade
Young children often seek jobs in hotels, restaurants and in retail trade to serve at their will and wish. However, there are indications of considerable abuse such as low or no wages. In some tourist areas, the children find work in hotels and restaurants and are subject to engage in prostitution.
Characteristics and consequences of child labour
Child labour involves various characteristics and consequences. It violates a nation’s minimum age laws because it is in contravention to the rule that children in the school-going age are employed. It threatens children’s physical or emotional well-being. On certain occasions, it involves slavery, child trafficking and debt bondage, forced labour or illicit activities. It also prevents children going to school and children are often used to undermine labour standards.
Laws aimed at preventing Child Labour Minimum age convention
In almost all the countries in the world, there are laws preventing child labour. According to the International Labour Organization’s minimum age convention which has been ratified by 135 countries, work performed including light work by children under 12 years of age, and hazardous work done by children between 15 to 17 years is regarded as child labour. Light work means any work which does not harm the health and development and which does not interfere with his/her schooling.
Convention on the rights of the child 1990
Convention on the rights of the child 1990 was adopted by the United Nations and was ratified by 193 countries. According to article 32 of this convention, the child should be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. Under article 28 of the Worst forms convention.
Under the worst forms convention of the International Labour Organization No.182 of 1999, which was ratified by 151 countries. International Law prohibits worst forms of child labour defined as all forms of slavery and slavery-like practices, such as child trafficking, debt bondage, and forced labour, including proscription during armed conflicts. The law also prohibits the use of a child for prostitution or production of pornography, child labour in illicit activities such as drug production and trafficking and in hazardous work. Both the worst forms convention (C 182) and minimum age convention (C 138) are examples of international labour standards implemented through the International Labour Organization that deals with child labour.
It is the responsibility of the general public to ensure that these conventions are implemented in a bid to eradicate child labour for the preservation of the rights of the children.