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Child labour, a growing concern in SA

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According to Al Jazeera, anti- slavery experts have said that a growing number of children whose families have fled the Syrian war to Lebanon are being forced to work for little or no pay, many of them in dangerous conditions.

“About one million Syrians have fled to Lebanon, where they make up a quarter of the country’s population. Many have no legal right to work and families are forced to find other ways to pay for food, shelter and healthcare,” stated in an Al-Jazeera news report.

Around the world child labour refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful.

Acting director of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Dr. Joni Musabayana, who is based in Pretoria, describes child labour as work undertaken by children. The law in South Africa states that an appropriate age for a child to begin working is 15 years.

“An International Labour Convention marks 15 years as the minimum working age for children, so all children that work below the age of 15 years are considered to be in child labour,” Musabayana explained.

In essence, child labour is a consequence of lack of employment and lack of income in a situation where a member of a family is either unemployed or lost their jobs or succumbed to disease

Musabayana added that there is a difference between child labour and child work.

“Child work is a part of social upbringing where children have to do a minimum amount of work around the house, but labour is work that is undertaken for commercial purposes.”

Child labour is, therefore, work undertaken by children for productive purposes or for an income and this forms the basis for the distinction between child work and child labour.

Musabayana further noted that the ILO has an extra definition of the worst forms of child labour.

“The worst forms of child labour refer to slavery or forced labour, including child trafficking and forced recruitment of children for armed conflict purposes.”

“It also refers to the use of children for prostitution and pornography, including illicit activities like drugs; but most importantly it refers to work conducted by a child, which by its nature and conditions will harm their health and safety, as well as the morals of the child and that is what we now call hazardous work.”

When it comes to the prevalence of child labour globally, according to statistics by ILO, 264 million children below the age of 15 are employed around the world.

“Of the 264 million children who are employment, 168 million are child labourers of which 84 million are in what we call hazardous work which is directly endangering their health, safety and moral development,” Musabayana explained.

The good news is that in the period between 2000 and 2012, the number of children involved in child labour has declined by one-third.

The number of children involved in Hazardous work has also declined. In 2000, there were 174 million children undertaking hazardous work. By 2012 this figure declined to 85 million – a stark improvement.

Musabayana further asserted that though the numbers have been declining in South Africa, the fact that children are still involved in hazardous labour is alarming.

“There has been a survey (in South Africa) that shows that 2.7 million young children between the age of 7 and 17 work in the economic production of goods and services, with over 40 per cent engaged in economic activities that are hazardous,” Musabayana affirmed.

He explained that various factors contribute to the decline in the number of children involved in about.

Main Factors

Many factors contribute to children being forced into child labour and the main drivers are largely economic.

Poverty, unemployment and unequal distribution of income are challenges that numerous countries around the world are facing. In South Africa, the loss of parents, due to HIV/AIDS, has been a big driver for children to choose a life of child labour.

To combat this, the government of South Africa provides child grants, which have had a direct impact on reducing the prevalence of child labour.

Declining figures

The ILO has a global programme that seeks to combat child labour, titled The International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour. All countries that are part of the ILO are obliged to develop a national action plan on the fight against child labour.

Musabayana noted that the decline is a direct consequence of the effectiveness of this global programme.

“In a South African, an initiative, titled Child Labour Programme of Action, was developed in 2003 and later adopted by cabinet in 2009 to cover the years 2008-2013,” Musabayana explained.

“We are now in the third phase of the Child Labour Program of Action and in it the government has come up with legislation and regulation to try and combat child labour in the country – I think the programme has been significant in the decline of child labour,” Musabayana concluded.

VOC (Umarah Hartley)


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