Child labour’s growing concern in Jamaica
CHAMPAGNIE ... each of us has a responsibility in the communities within which we live to make reports.

It is a common sight in Jamaica for children to be on the streets carving out a living for themselves, many of whom have accepted the harsh reality of their lives.

Approximately 38,000 youth between the ages of five and 17 are involved in child labour in the country, according to the latest International Labour Organization (ILO) report.

Popular spots for these children are the traffic lights, where they can petition motorists to clean their windshields at a cost. One such child is a 16-year-old boy who operates along Hope Road, St Andrew.

He told the Jamaica Observer that he has been cleaning windshields for over two years because, “me affi just do weh me affi do.”

Although the teen declined to talk about his family background and the school he attended before working full time, he said in no uncertain terms that the work is not easy.

“Sometime mi wish me coulda just relax a mi yard, but me affi work if me wah eat,” he said.

However, this does not appear to be a recent phenomenon, as 73-year-old Agatha Abrahams recalled being a 13-year-old girl leaving Homestead All-Age School in Spanish Town, Catherine, and doing domestic work, to ensure that she had lunch money and food, despite having a mother and grandmother present in her life.

“After me leave school me go help some Chinese. It made me feel terrible because me affi go a school and then go work. Eventually, me affi stop go a school and work. I stopped going to school when I was around 14,” Abrahams said.

“Parents should help children to the end, and not children helping children. I don’t like to see children selling. It’s not good for the children as a whole because it makes them not so educated. In today’s society education is very important because if you don’t have education you don’t have anything. It is good to have a trade too, it helps you through life,” she continued.

Speaking on the matter, attorney Peter Champagnie, QC, explained that section 34 of the Childcare and Protection Act criminalises child labour. Under the Act, a person is liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding $500,000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both.

He said it is his view that as with so many other instances in Jamaica where there is some scrutiny of the observance of the law, it is always an issue of enforcement.

“Particularly from the perspective of the parents or guardians of the child, because what you find happening is that many children who engage in child labour, some of them, it is not really under the direction of any adult. You have many children who take it upon themselves to do all manner of work without the knowledge and clear approval of their parents or guardians, and that to my mind falls in the realm of parental neglect,” Champagnie argued, adding that there is room to improve the law in which parents need to be held accountable, because they “turn a blind eye to it.”

However, he said that people should also have a sense of personal responsibility about protecting children.

“We hear, for instance of the prime minister, quite rightly so in my view, speaking about the rights of victims and the fact that crime is taking over Jamaica at an alarming rate and the police and all of us have a responsibility. Each of us has a responsibility in the communities within which we live to make reports and be proactive,” Champagnie said.

“In the communities a lot of them take on the title of JP [justice of the peace] for just as a show, but they are not proactive in their communities. They don’t go to the public thoroughfares, they don’t go to the various places where people congregate and get to know the people and to observe what is happening in their communities and make the appropriate reports it is really unjust, unfair and uncaring,” he said.

Reiterating what Champagnie said, attorney Donahue Martin spoke on the number of instances of child labour in the country, stating that the legislation is “clearly insufficient.”

“We clearly need to do more, because 38,000 is too much, and there can be no explanation beyond the fact that we need to do more to protect our children…The Government can do anything they want to do if it’s a priority of the Government, and this requires some prioritisation from any Government,” Martin said.

Another attorney, Michelle Thomas, attributed the root cause of child labour to unemployment.

“The parents don’t have the means to obtain an income and so they exploit the children. Because of their innocence, the parents exploit their children for personal gains,” she said.

Speaking on the seemingly lack of care from the police, Thomas cited the children who continue to operate across from the Hunt’s Bay Police Station in Kingston.

“It begs the question, how can a police station be so close to where illegal activities are taking place and nobody takes the children and requests for their parents to come to the station? It is beyond even the legislation and fines imposed, it is to ensure that our police officials become more robust when they see these children and charge them (the parents) accordingly,” Thomas said.

It is a common sight in Jamaica for children to be on the streets carving out a living for themselves, many of whom have accepted the harsh reality of their lives.

Approximately 38,000 youth between the ages of five and 17 are involved in child labour in the country, according to the latest International Labour Organization (ILO) report.

Popular spots for these children are the traffic lights, where they can petition motorists to clean their windshields at a cost. One such child is a 16-year-old boy who operates along Hope Road, St Andrew.

He told the Jamaica Observer that he has been cleaning windshields for over two years because, “me affi just do weh me affi do.”

Although the teen declined to talk about his family background and the school he attended before working full time, he said in no uncertain terms that the work is not easy.

“Sometime mi wish me coulda just relax a mi yard, but me affi work if me wah eat,” he said.

However, this does not appear to be a recent phenomenon, as 73-year-old Agatha Abrahams recalled being a 13-year-old girl leaving Homestead All-Age School in Spanish Town, Catherine, and doing domestic work, to ensure that she had lunch money and food, despite having a mother and grandmother present in her life.

“After me leave school me go help some Chinese. It made me feel terrible because me affi go a school and then go work. Eventually, me affi stop go a school and work. I stopped going to school when I was around 14,” Abrahams said.

“Parents should help children to the end, and not children helping children. I don’t like to see children selling. It’s not good for the children as a whole because it makes them not so educated. In today’s society education is very important because if you don’t have education you don’t have anything. It is good to have a trade too, it helps you through life,” she continued.

Speaking on the matter, attorney Peter Champagnie, QC, explained that section 34 of the Childcare and Protection Act criminalises child labour. Under the Act, a person is liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding $500,000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both.

He said it is his view that as with so many other instances in Jamaica where there is some scrutiny of the observance of the law, it is always an issue of enforcement.

“Particularly from the perspective of the parents or guardians of the child, because what you find happening is that many children who engage in child labour, some of them, it is not really under the direction of any adult. You have many children who take it upon themselves to do all manner of work without the knowledge and clear approval of their parents or guardians, and that to my mind falls in the realm of parental neglect,” Champagnie argued, adding that there is room to improve the law in which parents need to be held accountable, because they “turn a blind eye to it.”

However, he said that people should also have a sense of personal responsibility about protecting children.

“We hear, for instance of the prime minister, quite rightly so in my view, speaking about the rights of victims and the fact that crime is taking over Jamaica at an alarming rate and the police and all of us have a responsibility. Each of us has a responsibility in the communities within which we live to make reports and be proactive,” Champagnie said.

“In the communities a lot of them take on the title of JP [justice of the peace] for just as a show, but they are not proactive in their communities. They don’t go to the public thoroughfares, they don’t go to the various places where people congregate and get to know the people and to observe what is happening in their communities and make the appropriate reports it is really unjust, unfair and uncaring,” he said.

Reiterating what Champagnie said, attorney Donahue Martin spoke on the number of instances of child labour in the country, stating that the legislation is “clearly insufficient.”

“We clearly need to do more, because 38,000 is too much, and there can be no explanation beyond the fact that we need to do more to protect our children…The Government can do anything they want to do if it’s a priority of the Government, and this requires some prioritisation from any Government,” Martin said.

Another attorney, Michelle Thomas, attributed the root cause of child labour to unemployment.

“The parents don’t have the means to obtain an income and so they exploit the children. Because of their innocence, the parents exploit their children for personal gains,” she said.

Speaking on the seemingly lack of care from the police, Thomas cited the children who continue to operate across from the Hunt’s Bay Police Station in Kingston.

“It begs the question, how can a police station be so close to where illegal activities are taking place and nobody takes the children and requests for their parents to come to the station? It is beyond even the legislation and fines imposed, it is to ensure that our police officials become more robust when they see these children and charge them (the parents) accordingly,” Thomas said.

Candice Haughton

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