Child labour and COVID-19

FRIDAY was observed as World Day Against Child Labour, which focused on the impact of COVID-19 on child labour, while looking forward to the International Year of the Elimination of Child Labour, 2021.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in a report stated that globally millions more children risk being pushed into child labour as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, which could lead to the first rise in child labour after 20 years of progress. According to the ILO, global estimates in 2017 showed that 152 million children were in child labour worldwide. Children already in child labour may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions, the report says. More of them may be forced into the worst forms of labour, which causes significant harm to their health and safety.

As the pandemic wreaks havoc on family incomes, without support, many could resort to child labour, said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder; he added that social protection is vital in times of crisis as it provides assistance to those who are most vulnerable.

Here in Guyana the issue of exploitation of children is one which is obviously of great concern to the APNU+AFC administration. This fact is not surprising, given President David Granger’s stated observation that today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. As such, His Excellency has repeatedly emphasised that young Guyanese must be given every opportunity to succeed.

They must have access to education, be given opportunities to satisfying and gainful employment, and, ultimately, have the chance to live rewarding, productive, and happy lives. Unfortunately, though, too many of Guyana’s children are being robbed of their childhood because of poverty, cultural issues, or other matters; too many Guyanese children are forced into the labour market. The APNU+AFC administration has, to its credit, taken a stand to end the practice; the coalition has, admirably, vowed to ensure that children have the opportunity to enjoy childhood.

Child labour is the exploitation of children through any form of work that deprives them of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and is mentally, physically, socially or morally harmful to the child. Child labour is against international law.

Additionally, almost every country worldwide prohibits children from having to work. That fact is a result of the universal recognition that children are entitled to enjoy their childhood. They have a right to have the opportunity to obtain an education, engage in play, and otherwise do the things that children do; they should not be forced to work in order to get a meal or have shelter.

Child labour is a major problem. In developing countries, about one quarter of all children are forced to work. That alarming statistic is even more pronounced in some of the world’s poorest countries, where some half of the children must work in order to get a meal in the day or shelter for the night. Clearly, this is an unacceptable reality, and we must work, at all levels, to put an end to it.

Guyana is one of the developing countries that are plagued by the problem. According to a United Nations children’s Fund (UNICEF) 2016 report, the total child labour prevalence in Guyana for children five to seven years old is 18.3 per cent. Fortuitously though, since June 2015 when the APNU+AFC coalition was elected to office, Guyana has had a government that is committed to facilitating and fostering the conditions for all Guyanese, including children, to enjoy a ‘good life.’ Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection, Mr. Keith Scott, makes clear that the Government of Guyana has a zero-tolerance policy pertaining to any form of child exploitation.

Minister Scott said that children in Guyana are experiencing some of the worst forms of child labour based upon the need for survival for not only themselves, but also for their families. The minister said that the Government of Guyana in its pursuit to eradicate child labour by 2025, has implemented a policy that will note the enacting of various relevant laws. Adults who prey on the vulnerabilities of children are the ones who cause this problem. The policy was developed with the thought of youth and youth empowerment in mind.

Obviously, child labour may result in a myriad of social deficits. Children are exposed to accidents and injuries at the workplace; sexual abuse and exploitation of girls is also prevalent among child workers; this can often result in many economic and social issues. The sexual exploitation of young girls due to child labour often causes unplanned pregnancies, risky abortions, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), alcoholism and other social problems. Further, the lack of schooling for many of these young children that are subjected to unjust labour perpetuates poverty and dependency. The ministry’s policy, in the hope of eradicating child labour by 2025, is anticipating a reduction in the many issues that are often brought on with the ill.

Government has taken the matter seriously and last year launched Guyana’s National Policy on Child Labour and National Policy on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH). The intertwined policies are geared at pushing Guyana towards the elimination of child labour and will promote and improve the quality of life and safety of all workers. Guyana’s government has committed itself to the elimination of child labour by 2025, in accordance with target 8.7 of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). All Guyanese will certainly agree that children deserve the opportunity to enjoy their childhood. They too, are entitled to a good life. They must be given the chance to become educated, so that they can have fulfilling lives. They must be allowed to simply be children. As adults, we are obligated to ensuring that our children are happy.


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