Child labour nightmare continues
Many under age 13 among almost 38,000 involvedSunday, May 02, 2021
BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
CHILD labour remains a problem of national concern in Jamaica as 37,965 children are engaged in such activities, with the highest numbers being those under 13 years of age.
Director, Child Labour, in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS), Sasha Deer Gordon, told the Jamaica Observer that the Child Care and Protection Act forbids children under the age of 13 to be engaged in work for economic gain. However, that is the age group in which the highest incidence of child labour occurs.
Deer Gordon said in the five to 12 years age group there are 18,402 children involved in child labour. In the 13 to 14 group, 5, 992 are involved in child labour activities; and 13, 571 children in the 15 to 17 age group are child labourers.
The data is the findings of a study conducted by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) in 2016.
Child labour is any legal or illegal activity that is mentally, physically, socially, morally, spiritually dangerous and harmful to children.
Besides the 2016 study, which was published in 2018, Deer Gordon said the 2018/19 Understanding Children Work Project, which produced the 'Child Labour and the Youth Decent Work Deficit in Jamaica', revealed that the highest cases were from rural areas.
Deer Gordon said the parish with the highest cases was Clarendon, which reportedly has 5,417 children involved in child labour activities. St Elizabeth followed with 4,126 children involved in child labour, while St Thomas had a little over 4,000 children engaged in child labour activities.
Some 45 per cent of children in child labour fetch water or collect firewood. Some 17. 5 per cent are found in domestic services, while 17. 3 per cent do agriculture, and 15.5 per cent do commerce. In terms of status in employment, 87 per cent of children are found overwhelmingly in unpaid family work.
“It's very alarming to see so many of our children out there... No child below 13 is to be engaged in work for economic gain. We look at age 13 to 15 as that is the age that can be engaged in light work...a child working for four hours per day, and not during school hours, and a maximum of 14 hours per week can be engaged in some light work,” Deer Gordon said. “You have to consider the development of the child and there must be that balance between school and work — if they are going to be working — and time for themselves.”
Deer Gordon said that light work includes but is not limited to packing bags in a supermarket, filing, being a sales assistant, and braiding of hair. She explained that babysitting also falls under light work, but the babysitter has to be at least 15 years old and the child no younger than nine months.
She added that if parents were unsure about what is allowed they may always seek advice from the MLSS.
“Call us and we can advise you better. We are not saying a child cannot help, but the time has to be limited. Also the work that that child is doing, in terms of learning the family business, if the child is not doing the work, do you have to get someone else and pay them to do the work? These are things to consider,” Deer Gordon said.
She told the Observer that there is concern that the novel coronavirus pandemic had increased the numbers, but the data is not being captured because of the associated limitations.
“So many persons have lost their jobs, the fact that there is no face-to-face class... even for those children who are able to access online classes, chances there is no supervision at home. We have to be mindful that there is a possibility the numbers have increased,” she said.
Further, Deer Gordon said schools have not called the MLSS to report child labour, but the entity had received calls from a few concerned residents.
“Citizens will say they have seen a particular child not in school, but they are riding bicycles, delivering lunches. They provide us with the information, and if we have contact information we make a call. Calls would come like twice a week. But because the pandemic has impacted road shows and our outreach, we have not received much calls since last December,” she said.
Further, Deer Gordon also highlighted that child labour can occur within the home.
“If it is you prevent a child from going to school and getting an education, if it is you are forcing the child to work and not recognising time for play, time for leisure, it's child labour. You have that taking place in the homes. You also have the extreme situations where you have children who are not going to school and are actually going out to work in establishments. This is where our labour officers come in, because we have a duty to visit these establishments, assess their books, and look into their offices if we see children there.
“If it is we go on a construction site and we see a child working there, usually they [the individual in charge] are asked about it, and that information is given to this department when that officer returns to office. A follow-up call is done in cases like those, and then we would advise them that it is child labour. After we have spoken to you, we do unannounced visits to see if the child is [still] there,” she said.
Meanwhile, the director of child labour said the prevailing circumstances that lead to child labour are poverty and developmental issues.
“The root cause is the whole issue of poverty. If it is that you have a family who cannot support his or her children, you will find that that child will tend to go out to supplement the income that the parent or the guardian is taking in. When we look at the parishes with the highest incidences of child labour we recognised something: They are along the coast. One of the things that causes child labour is natural disasters, where you have displacement. We have to consider the fishing village, fish farms in the Clarendon area. Those are some causes we think about. The report did not highlight this, but when we look at the map and do our analysis, these are causes,” Deer Gordon said.
“We also need to look at the infrastructural development. When we look at rural as opposed to urban, you will recognise that the rural areas are at a disadvantage in terms of the development, and we're seeing it now in terms of online classes,” she added.
Deer Gordon also pointed out that the lack of education and cultural beliefs lend its hand to child labour.
“We have some cultural and sub-cultural things we need to address. That's maybe the most challenging, as they are deeply engrained in persons. Say I live in the rural area and, as a child, my parents owned a farm. I had to go on the farm and I help out whether it is before I go to school or it is that I take Thursdays and Fridays off from school to assist with reaping in the field for market day. That's how I was grown. Now, God forbid, I have a child living in that particular area and you find that, because I did it, it is okay for my child to do it. Those are some of the problems... trying to get persons to have that change in the attitude,” she said.
Moreover, Deer Gordon said 2021 is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, and though COVID-19 has threatened the progress locally, the MLSS will continue to use its social media platforms and target specific communities to provide intervention.
There will also be an online poster competition for children between the age of five to 17 years to raise awareness around child labour.
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