Protect and educate our children – end child labour

Dear Editor,
June 12 annually is designated World Day against Child Labour to focus the world’s attention on the continuing need to combat the scourge of growing child labour.
The UN International Labour Organization (ILO) has defined child labour as children’s work which is of such a nature or intensity that it is detrimental to their schooling or harmful to their health and development. The concern is with children:
• who are deprived of quality education,
• who are denied their childhood and a future,
• who work at too young an age,
• who work for long hours for low wages,
• who work under conditions harmful to their health and to their physical and mental development, or
• who are separated from their families,

Such child labour can create irreversible damage to the child, and is in violation of international law and national legislation.

International Standards
The following two International Labour Conventions of the UN-ILO, which are ratified by Guyana, place a binding obligation on Government of Guyana and its agencies, and the social partners represented by the Employers and Trade Unions, to bring the laws and practice of Guyana in line with these Conventions:

1. Convention No. 138 – Minimum Age, 1973: This Convention calls:
• for the abolition of child labour, and emphasizes that school is for children, not work; (any child under 15 years of age);
• for the minimum age for employment to be not less than the age of completion of compulsory education (not under 15 years);
• on states to pursue a national policy designed to abolish child labour;
• on states to progressively raise the minimum age for employment consistent with the full physical and mental development of young persons; and
• on states to ensure that the minimum age shall not be less than 18 years for any type of work which is likely to jeopardise the health, safety, or morals of young persons or 16 years under certain conditions of protection of health safety or morals, with adequate and specific safety instructions in vocational training.

2. Convention No. 182 – The Worst Forms of Child Labour, 1999:
This Convention is applicable to all persons under 18 years of age, and requires ratifying states (Guyana is a ratifying State) to take effective and immediate measures to prohibit and eliminate as a matter of urgency the worst forms of child labour, defined as:

• all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom;
• forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflicts;
• The use, in procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;
• The use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs;
• Work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children” (Article 3).

Convention 182 further calls for:
i. international cooperation among states in eliminating the worst forms of child labour;
ii. effective national measures to implement and enforce the provisions of the Convention;
iii. the recognition of the importance of education in eliminating child labour; and
iv. special measures to identify and reach out to children at risk, and to take account of the special situation of girls.

Need for Collective Action:
Child labour is a scourge on society, denying childhood which should be dedicated to education and development, jeopardizing the children’s potential of becoming productive adults for community life, and put at risk a country’s long-term productivity by denying education to the future workforce. This presents a challenge to all countries to progressively reduce child labour wherever it exists and in whatever form. This can be achieved with national determination and political will, and with the support of labour and school inspectorates, social services, and the cooperation of employers and law enforcement agencies.
There is therefore the need for Guyana’s national system to provide for strong, well trained and adequately staffed labour and school inspectorates with the financial and material means to enable them to discharge their advisory, technical, and promotional work effectively. Indeed, it is the individual and joint responsibility of the governments, and the social partners – employers’ and workers’ organizations, Churches/religious organizations and civil society to address the problems of child labour, and actively combat Child Labour to improve the situation to enable children to achieve their full potential in the national community.

Samuel J Goolsarran