Child labour – eradicating a global scourge

Child labour is prevalent worldwide, but especially in Third-World countries and countries at war. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNICEF inform that child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide – and counting. The two organisations warn that nine million additional children are at risk as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most likely, this is a conservative figure. This is information coming out of Geneva in ILO News of June 10, 2021. This figure is an estimated increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years.
The report points to a significant rise in the number of children – aged 5 to 11 years in child labour, who now account for just over half of the total global figure. The number of children aged 5 to 17 years in hazardous work – defined as work that is likely to harm their health, safety, or morals – has risen by 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016. The ILO-UNICEF 2021 report indicates that 8.2 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 are engaged in child labour in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk,” said ILO Director General Guy Ryder. “Inclusive social protection allows families to keep their children in school even in the face of economic hardship. Increased investment in rural development and decent work in agriculture is essential. We are at a pivotal moment and much depends on how we respond. This is a time for renewed commitment and energy, to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labour.”
The Guyana Government has passed legislation and enacted laws that mandate severe penalties for infringements that could cause harm to children while yet recognising that the Guyanese culture allows children to be involved in family income-generation activities, as well as children’s efforts to engage in odd jobs in their spare time, once such activities do not affect their education and/or jeopardise them or their health in any way,
Labour Minister Joseph Hamilton and Human Services and Social Security Minister, Dr Vindhya Persaud on Friday last called on stakeholders to collaborate to end child labour in Guyana.
The appeal was made during the launch of World Day Against Child Labour, which was themed, “Act Now, End Child Labour.” Guyana proposes to end child labour by 2025, especially in rural communities where this matter is prevalent, according to Minister Hamilton. He asserted: “We cannot allow the fight against child labour to regress. The COVID-19 pandemic is having a huge impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. Unfortunately, children are often the first to suffer and this crisis can push vulnerable children into child labour.”
The Government thinks it imperative to prioritise ending child labour and to accelerate the approaches hitherto undertaken to end this scourge. To enable this, the Administration is seeking the involvement of private and public organisations, trade unions, and civil society stakeholders.
Hamilton iterated “Child labour is a complex phenomenon that cuts across policy boundaries and cannot be seen in isolation from the other sectors.
“In addition, it is proposed to promote advocacy to increase awareness of child labour by conducting sensitisation training, pledges, Memoranda of Understanding, media campaigns, and promoting legislative reforms that will help to eliminate child labour in Guyana.” This is a primary necessity to achieving Guyana’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
However, in her remarks on that occasion, Minister Persaud explained the anomalies differentiating acceptable childhood activity and child labour, as defined by UNICEF protocols; she said, inter alia, “… it is good to have children involved in chores at home. It is good to give them a sense of discipline and responsibility, but from the time it moves to force… exploiting them and putting them in the labour force at a tender age when money is involved … and the deviation becomes a part of the equation, that is when it becomes wrong… It is a crime. It leads to poverty, it leads to deprivation of education, it leads to societal exclusion, it leads to psychological trauma and harm, and it can lead to the worst forms of abuse of children.”
Good intentions cannot eradicate societal scourges, but holistic approaches by global multi-stakeholder endeavours may positively impact the status quo to levels where individual governments can effectively manage their internal affairs