United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative to Guyana, Sylvie Fouet on Friday made another startling revelation when she announced that this country is higher than the average figure of other countries in Latin America, as well as the Caribbean, where about one in every 10 children in the country are engaged in some form of child labour.
Comforting however was the announcement that Guyana is among the first sets of Caricom countries to lead in the policy process.
According to the United Nations, with 218 million children between the ages of five and 17 are in employment. Seventy-three million are in some form of hazardous employment – supply chains, from agriculture to manufacturing, services to construction.
International Labour Orgainsation (ILO) Director, Guy Ryder in addressing the issue of child labour, had said that no place in well-functioning and well-regulated markets, or in any supply chain. He said countries must act now to stop child labour, once and for all, and this has been affirmed by the Sustainable Development Goals. Acting together, it is within everyone’s means to make the future a future without child labour.
To support businesses in their actions to remove child labour from their supply chains, the ILO and the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) had jointly created the Child Labour Guidance Tool, a resource for companies to increase their knowledge and ability to conduct business in line with international labour standards on child labour.
The tool draws on the long experience of the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (ILO-IPEC) in collaborating with employers to combat child labour in supply chains and incorporates contributions from the a wide variety of companies.
The Government of Guyana a few years ago announced that a unit to focus specifically on the issue of child labour will be established by the Social Protection Ministry. This announcement came mere days after a survey revealed that there is an alarmingly high number of Guyanese children involved in the worst forms of child labour.
Guyana’s National Child Labour Rapid Assessment Survey was conducted in Georgetown, New Amsterdam, Linden, Corriverton, Black Bush Polder, Number 58 Village, Charity, Kwakwani, and Ituni. It was done among three categories of children: 15 years and younger; 15 to 16, and 16 to 18. A total of 532 children and young workers were involved in the survey.
The survey had detailed that many of the youths who participated in the research in all three categories, were involved in selling and agricultural activities. It was also highlighted that hidden evidence of prostitution activities were found in all of the age ranges.
Another disturbing fact revealed by the survey was that a minor percentage of the working youths sustained illness and injuries while working especially in areas of weeding, begging or carrying out sexual activities. Also found were many children and young workers involved in carrying heavy loads and operating machinery and were exposed to chemicals, pesticides and gases at their places of work.
Troubling also was the fact that most of the households that the children were from were headed by single females who had more than one dependant. The study also highlighted that guardians/parents reported the main reason for the children working was to help support their families. The study also highlighted that 67 per cent of the children in the 15 years and younger category were males, with 40 per cent of this age group not in school and 36 per cent of them employed on a full-time basis. A significant per cent of the children, according to the survey, were involved in rice farming while eight per cent were involved in prostitution and stripping.
After the survey was released the Government announced that urgent steps to address the issue of child labour will be taken. Among the strategies to address the problem the Administration had said was the enforcement of child labour laws; the removing working children off the streets and ensuring they are in school; and providing more funding to facilitate labour inspections. The announcement of a national child labour policy is welcoming.