Child labour on coconut farms

Four months after Guyana’s Labour Minister launched an investigation into child labour and exploitation on coconut plantations in the Pomeroon, Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam), the Minister has said the Ministry is reviewing reports of child labour occurring at two coconut estates in the region.
While the findings of the first investigation, which was announced in November 2020, were never released, the Minister, during a visit to coconut estates over the weekend, again received reports of the occurrence, and said the Region’s Labour Officer has been engaged to address the matter.
The rights of children are enacting in key pieces of local and international legislation, and are more so protected by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Guyana is a signatory to both international agreements.
According to the United Nations, over 165 million children between the ages of five and 17 years old are in employment. One survey shows that over 70 million are in some form of hazardous employment – supply chains, from agriculture to manufacturing, services to construction.
Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Guy Ryder, some time ago, in addressing the issue of child labour, had said it has 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 one 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 a wide variety of companies.
Here, in Guyana, the then APNU/AFC Government, a few years ago, announced that a unit to focus specifically on the issue of child labour would be established by the then 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. However, this unit was never fully materialised. A National Plan of Action geared at eliminating child labour in Guyana completely was also launched with the objective of eliminating child labour in the country by 2025.
At the time, a 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 illnesses and injuries while working, especially in areas of weeding, begging, or carrying out sexual activities. The study also highlighted that guardians/parents reported the main reason for the children working was to help support their families.
There is no doubt that fighting child labour requires a multi-sectoral approach, and, as a matter of policy, the Government must ensure that there is enforcement of laws to protect our children.
There is no doubt that all Guyanese must assist in helping to promote the rights of the child, and provide improved protection and care for them. There must also be proactive labour and occupational safety and health officers in every region to help tackle this issue.