World Day Against Child Labour is marked on 12 June. Its theme in 2018 is the devastating impact of hazardous forms of work on children’s long-term health and well-being.
According to recent International Labour Organization estimates, 152 million children across the world are in work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.
These children are denied the right to complete their basic education, and are forced instead to do dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs. Unfortunately, the Asia-Pacific has the highest number of children by region in child labour, amounting to approximately 62.1 million, of whom 24.8 million are in hazardous work.
Sri Lanka is a beacon of hope in South Asia. According to the latest Child Activity Survey of the Department of Census of Statistics, only 1 per cent (or 43,714) of the child population in Sri Lanka is engaged in child labour.
However, challenges remain in eliminating child labour and its worst forms. Some 39,007 children (0.9% of the child population in Sri Lanka) carry out hazardous forms of work. Children engaged in child labour must be removed from all forms of work for which they have not reached the minimum age; and hazardous child labour in particular, needs to be prioritised in a multi-agency approach to eliminate child labour.
In Sri Lanka, the majority of the children in child labour and hazardous forms of child labour are to be found in industry and services, rather than in agriculture. There are more boys than girls in child labour and its hazardous forms. However, girls tend to work much longer hours than boys, while earning a lower income.
Further, school attendance among children engaged in child labour is as low as 20%; dropping to as little as 12% among those in hazardous work. These are the children often exposed to unsafe working conditions; and who suffer from work-related injuries, which impact their school and work attendance.
Much effort is underway to eliminate child labour and hazardous forms of child labour. At the IVth Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour in Buenos Aires in 2017, the Government of Sri Lanka pledged to eradicate the worst forms of child labour by 2022.
Sri Lanka has already raised the minimum age of school completion from 14 to 16 years, helping children begin their working lives later. Sri Lanka is also progressing towards ratification of the ILO’s Protocol on Forced Labour that will provide greater protection to children in conditions of vulnerability and exploitation.
In recognition of its efforts, Sri Lanka has been highlighted as a ‘Pathfinder Country’ within “Alliance 8.7”, a global movement for the eradication of child labour.
This year, the ILO Country Office in Colombo has partnered with the Ministry of Labour and Trade Union Relations to rally public opinion against child labour through electronic media programmes; and with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to raise awareness of hazardous forms of work to children through school programmes, and to young workers through certified skills courses.
Building a generation of healthy and productive people and protecting the rights of children is vital in reaching the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The continuous effort of government, employers, trade unions, civil society and development partners, at the national, regional and grassroots level, can realise Sri Lanka’s ambition to soon eradicate the worst forms of child labour. (Colombo Gazette)