12 JUNE 2017: Child Labour Day By Lathasha Subban

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“In conflicts and disasters, protect children from child labour”

Globally over 1.5 billion people live in countries that are affected by conflict, violence and fragility. At the same time, around 200 million people are affected by disasters every year. A third of them are children. A significant proportion of the 168 million children engaged in child labour live in areas affected by conflict and disaster. The 2017 World Day Against Child Labour focuses on the impact of conflicts and disasters on child labour.

The world seems to be cruel place when we witness the events that dehumanise, abuse and destroy children. The children of today are our leaders of tomorrow, yet the instances of child labour is something very real in today’s world. South African law completely supports the protection of our children, and has explicitly driven this through our law and practice, “In the interests of protecting children, employing anyone under the age of 15 is illegal, except for children in the performing arts.  Children aged 15 to 18 may not be employed to do inappropriate work.”[1]

In 2015, South Africa made a moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. The Government developed regulations to enforce the 2013 Prevention and Combatting of Trafficking in Persons Act, which increased the penalty for forced labor to $7,692, with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The Government also expanded the Child Support Grant program by reaching additional beneficiaries and increasing the amount of funding for caregivers. However, children in South Africa are engaged in child labor, including in agriculture and domestic work. Government social programs to address child labor do not match the scope of the problem, and barriers to education access remain. In addition, the Government does not collect data on child labor or make criminal enforcement data publicly available.

Children are supposed to be children, with livelihoods of youth times, and playful adventures, yet child labour is prevelant and a huge problem in the world. What are the impacts of child labour? According to the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco[1], the following causes are evident:

  • Poverty is undoubtedly a dominant factor in the use of child labour; families on or below the poverty line force their children into work to supplement their household’s meager income. Eradicating poverty, however, is only the first step on the road to eliminating child labour.
  • There are many other factors that conspire to drive children into employment, none of which is unique to any one country or any one family’s circumstances. Only when we fully understand these reasons can we begin to address the problems associated with child labour:
  • Cuts in social spending – particularly education and the health services – have a direct impact on poverty. With little or no access to schooling, children are forced into employment at an early age in order to survive
  • Child labour may not even be recognised when children work as part of the family unit. This is particularly common in agriculture, where an entire family may have to work to meet a particular quota or target and cannot afford to employ outside help
  • Children may also be expected to act as unpaid domestic servants in their own home, taking care of the family’s needs while both parents work
  • Parents may effectively “sell” their children in order to repay debts or secure a loan
  • The prevalence of AIDS throughout many developing countries has resulted in an enormous number of orphans who are forced to become their own breadwinners
  • The demand for cheap labour by contractors means that children are often offered work in place of their parents. With such narrow margins, contractors such as produce-growers and loom-owners know that children can be exploited and forced to work for much less than the minimum wage
  • Children may also be sent into hazardous jobs in favour of parents, who can less afford the time or money to become ill or injured
  • Child soldiers are forcibly enlisted into military service and operations
  • Employers often justify the use of children by claiming that a child’s small, nimble hands are vital to the production of certain products such as hand-knotted carpets and delicate glassware -although evidence for this is limited
  • The international sex trade places great value on child prostitutes. Girls -and to a lesser extent boys- are kidnapped from their homes (or sold) to networks of child traffickers supplying overseas markets; poverty and sexual and racial discrimination also drive children into the tourist sex trade
  • Young workers are unaware of their rights and less likely to complain or revolt. In many countries, the legislation is simply not effective enough to support these workers.

To follow on the causes, is the consequences of child labour, which have devastating effects on the children impacted like:

  • Deprivation of their educational opportunities, as well as their mental and physical development and growth.
  • Risks accumulate as the level of understanding the work for the child is limited. This impacts the child in the short and long term. Health and death risks become more prominent.
  • Physical dangers are more prone to happen to children who are exposed as child labour.

  • “Growth deficiency is prevalent among working children, who tend to be shorter and lighter than other children; these deficiencies also impact on their adult life. Long-term health problems, such as respiratory disease, asbestosis and a variety of cancers, are common in countries where children are forced to work with dangerous chemicals.”[1]
  • Children are prone to prostitution and rape, with the risk of sexually transmitted diseases being high. This leads to emotional and physical deterioration of the child’s health and wellbeing. Also, child pregnancies are higher, HIV/AIDS is a higher concern with other serious consequences like drug addiction and mental illnesses.
  • As children work long hours and probably in insufferable conditions, they will not be paid high rates, and are expected to work long, unreasonable hours. Access to food or affordability of food may be limited, and this could have a severe impact on the child’s health like malnutrition and underdevelopment of their growth.
  • “Pesticide poisoning is one of the biggest killers of child labourers. In Sri Lanka, pesticides kill more children than diphtheria, malaria, polio and tetanus combined. The global death toll each year from pesticides is supposed to be approximately 40’000.”[2]

It is unfortunate that the world still witnesses child labour practices. “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms”[3].

As leaders and adults in the world, the power of changing these conditions and practices lies in our hands. As mentioned in the statistics above, 1 in 4 children are engaged in work that is potentially harmful to their health. The SABPP has advocated their stand against child labour, and has published their fact sheet on Modern Slavery in February 2017, which exposes the current reality of child labour, human trafficking and slavery. The issues are clearly interrelated and the reality is true and shocking. We cannot just stand by in silence and let our children be kidnapped into the world of child labour.

We need to be advocates and leaders in creating awareness and solutions to the challenges and, create a bright future for our children. Make the awareness of Child Labour Day 2017 count and be a part of the change make a difference to the children that have been impacted.

Lathasha Subban is Head of Knowledge & Innovation at SABPP.  You can contact her on lathasha@sabpp.co.za   Follow SABPP on Twitter @SABPP1  or  Instagram @sabpp_1  or visit the website www.sabpp.co.za


The fact sheet on Modern Slavery can be found on the SABPP website: www.sabpp.co.za

[1] http://www.eclt.org/index.html

[2] http://www.eclt.org/index.html

[3] http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/publications/WCMS_547398/lang–en/index.htm?ssSourceSiteId=ipec

[1] http://www.labour.gov.za/DOL/legislation/acts/basic-guides/basic-guide-to-child-labour/