Eliminating child labour
Every year the World Day against Child Labor is being observed under the auspices of the International Labor Organization (ILO) of the United Nations. The aim of observance of this day is to create awareness and activism to eliminate child labor from the society. This year, the 'World Day against Child Labor 2021' was observed around the globe including Bangladesh on 12thJune with the theme "Act Now: End Child Labor".
Children are the future of a nation. They have the right to grow safely and comfortably with due care and affection. But unfortunately, according to the ILO, a total of 152 million children - 64 million girls and 68 million boys are engaged in child labor all over the world. A major portion of these children mostly in 5-17 year age group is involved in hazardous works endangering their health safety and over all wellbeing.
The tradition of child labor existed on this earth from ancient time. But in those days, children used to do voluntary work in agricultural fields and domestic chores to help their parents. Perhaps it is during the Industrial revolution, the practice of child labor was expanded and children were made to work as helper, servants and apprentices.
Now children are subjected to modern slavery, forced labor, some are even becoming victims of child trafficking. The avenues of child labor include--agriculture, factories, constructions, brick kilns, mines, private homes, service industries etc. Sometimes children are compelled to do forced labor including slavery. They are even forced into begging, petty crimes, drug trafficking etc.
In developing countries children are seen working in motor garage, lathe, and foundry shops handling heavy tools and machineries without any safety protection risking their lives. While working in agricultural fields, children are being exposed to toxic pesticides and other agro-chemicals that often throw them into long-term health risks. Children in child labor are underfed and suffer from malnutrition. As per available information, child labor is the highest in India, followed by Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.
Governments of these countries including Bangladesh have undertaken various programs to bring down the number of child laborers; for instance, Bangladesh has achieved significant success in reducing child labor in garment factories. However the present COVID-19 pandemic has made more people to get poorer, create new poor people and forced their children to join indecent, odd and risky jobs for earning livelihood for them as well as for their family members.
According to the United Nations, anyone under the age of 18 is considered a child and as per ILO Convention No.182-'requires Governments to give priority to eliminating the worst forms of child labour under the age of 18'. The Convention No. 138 on minimum age for work (12 to 15) states that these children may be permitted to do light works which are not harmful to their health or development, prejudice their attendance at school�..
Recently the US-based World's largest Community 'FREEDOM UNITED' dedicated to ending human trafficking and modern slavery including the child labour has plagued the coca industry in Ivory Coast and Ghana which produce 60% of the world's coca for decades as forcing children in child labor / slavery; some are even trafficked and illegally engaged in forced labor. While working in these coca farms, children are being exposed to harmful pesticides. The owners of these farms unfortunately pay very poorly to the farmers for their coca. As a result, the coca farmers are compelled to expand the area of their coca farm by going deep into the forest clearing land causing deforestation and environmental degradation.
Chocolate is one of the most favorite foods particularly to the children all over the world. But could anyone imagine how much pain the children endure, shade sweats to grow coca by which everyone's favorite chocolate is prepared? The Freedom United has taken a resolution urging--"Chocolate should not be on the market unless it is produced ethically and free from modern slavery".
Actually the root cause of child labor is poverty. Creation of alternative job opportunities,access to education, micro and macro financing etc. can help in eliminating the Child labor towards accomplishing the UN's sustainable development goal for an end to child labor in all its form by 2025.
The writer is a professor, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, Dhaka