Columnists Features

Understanding child labour matters

ONE of the challenges confronting those working to end child labour is failure by targeted communities to understand what exactly constitutes child labour.
The United Nations (UN) defines child labour as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children.
In its most extreme forms, child labour involves children being enslaved or separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses. Whether or not particular forms of “work” can be called “child labour” depends on the age of the child, the type and hours of work done, the conditions under which it is done. This varies from country to country as well as within different sectors.
In an effort to establish the levels of knowledge and awareness as well as attitudes around child labour among various publics, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) commissioned a study in Kaoma and Nkeyema districts in Western Province in 2016.
The study revealed that knowledge and awareness about what constitutes child labour, including worst forms of child labour, was overwhelming among parents and so did other social actors in the communities. They disagreed that any type of work constitutes child labour.
Attitudes among parents towards child labour are that of tolerance of the scourge. All the parents and other adults interviewed expressed the view that children have an obligation to help their families, including financially when the family is poor.
The education levels of parents of working children were very low. Fifty-four percent had only attained primary school level with at least 16 percent having never ever attended school.
Knowledge and awareness about the existence of a national legal minimum age for admittance to employment for children was fair but not widespread among parents. Forty-five percent of the parents were aware about the existence of a national legal minimum age for admittance to employment.
There was fairly good awareness and knowledge across all communities, among different social actors regarding the impact of child labour on children’s education such as absenteeism and complete dropping out of school.
Among children, attitudes towards child labour were mixed. Fifty-four percent of the children said their work was bad while 30 percent and 16 percent said it was acceptable and good respectively. Some school-going children revealed that they often engage in work to get pocket money without the knowledge of their parents.
Attitudes towards child labour among community leaders such as teachers, traditional leaders, religious leaders, civil society and members of community child labour committees are positive.
These social actors have begun to sensitise parents on the dangers of child labour and follow up parents whose children stop school to go for work. Some children are being withdrawn from labour and sent back to school and others to skills training centres.
It is important to note that not all work done by children amounts to child labour. Children or young people’s participation in work that does not affect their health and development or interfere with their education should generally be regarded as being good for their personal development.
“Children should be encouraged to help out with general household chores such as cooking and cleaning the surroundings. Such activities are to be encouraged as they contribute to children’s development and provide them with skills and the experience necessary for them to grow up into independent and responsible adults.
“But we need to be mindful of the age of the child, the nature of work to be done as well as the time it takes to do that particular kind of work,” asserts Ana Ache executive director Ann Ngwira.
She observes that there is need for more rigorous sensitisation around issues of child labour as it is one area that has not been given the necessary attention largely due to cultural and economic issues attached to it.
“We need to have more programmes aimed at ending child labour particularly in low- income communities where it is rife as well as around trading places. A lot of initiatives around child rights only have a component of child labour.
“There is need for programmes that specifically focus on zero tolerance to child labour and not just child abuse in general,” advises Ms Ngwira, a child rights activist.
And a concerned citizen says there is urgent need to look into the plight of child domestic workers most of whom work under inhuman conditions.
Ms Emma Phiri of Kamwala South in Lusaka notes that an increasing number of young girls from rural areas are being lured by relatives to urban areas to work as domestic workers.
“These young girls are forced to work very long hours under very difficult conditions for little or no pay. It is sad that they cannot speak out about the abuse because they either do not know whom to report to or they are unaware of their rights. Girls as young as 10 years are being engaged as domestic servants.
“Since there are no mechanisms in place to look into the welfare of young domestic workers as they are not registered with appropriate bodies, I encourage citizens to act as whistle-blowers by reporting such cases of child labour involving young domestic workers,” says Ms Phiri.
Child labour has extensively been recognised as a violation of children’s rights, fundamental rights at work and other human rights as well as a hindrance to developmental goals.
It is for this reason that the UN came up with measures aimed at ending child labour in all its forms.
Child labour issues are guided by three main international conventions. The ILO Convention: No. 138 concerning minimum age for admission to employment and Recommendation No. 146 of 1973; the ILO Convention No. 182 concerning the prohibition and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour and Recommendation No. 190 of 1999; and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
These instruments frame the concept of child labour and form the basis for child labour legislation enacted by countries that are signatories.
Zambia has in place laws and policies that seek to address issues of child labour. The Employment of Young Persons and Children Cap 274 of the Laws of Zambia as amended by Act No. 10 of 2004 and the Employment Act Cap 268 of the Laws of Zambia prohibit the employment of any person under the age of 15.
The Employment of Young Persons and Children (Amendment) Act prohibits a child under the age of 13 from employment and allows a child between the ages of 13 and 15 to engage in “light work”.
Zambia has also ratified the ILO Minimum Age Convention No. 138 and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182 and has made notable efforts to domesticate these instruments in the Employment of Young Persons and Children Act No. 10 of 2004 to bring it into line with the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention.
Aside from this, Zambia also has in place the National Child Labour Policy, the National Employment and Labour Market Policy, the Child Welfare Policy and Youth Policy.
“The implementation of both laws and policies related to child labour has been a challenge because of lack of a well coordinated system. Moreover, ministries and departments concerned with the welfare of children and young persons lack adequate resources to enable them carry out their work effectively.
“But it is important to note that ending child labour calls for collective efforts across a wide range of stakeholders. As a unit, we stand ready to work with like-minded, child- centred establishments that work to address the child labour phenomenon,” says Susan Liteta, national coordinator of the Child Protection Unit of the Zambia Police Service.
Ms Liteta notes that many people are unaware of the fact that child labour is an offence, hence it is seldom reported to relevant offices.
“It is for this very reason that child labour has continued unabated. We need to have serious sensitisation programmes and awareness campaigns on child labour in communities and through the media,” she adds.

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