Child Labour is Still Missing from the Agenda

Child labour continues to exist in countries around the world including South Africa and yet people are still not talking about it and this makes addressing and combating it all the more difficult. It is often sidelined for what one can only assume are issues considered to be more “exciting” or pressing such as human trafficking, child abuse and youth development, all the while negating the fact that it is intricately linked to the afore mentioned issues and much like them, it is just as important and as urgent.

Child labour is defined by the national Child Labour Programme of Action (CLPA) as:

… work by children under 18 which is exploitative, hazardous or otherwise inappropriate for their age, detrimental to their schooling, or their social, physical, mental, spiritual or moral development.

The term ‘work’ is not limited to work for gain but includes chores or household activities in the child’s household where such work is exploitative, hazardous or inappropriate for their age or detrimental to their development. Not all work is harmful to children however. In fact, some work is considered appropriate and beneficial to their development.

The issue continues to be absent from the agenda, including that of the Department of Labour’s ministers, both previous and current. When it is privileged enough to be included, it is often as an after thought, a have-to-do or a requirement and the only spaces it gets ample air play is within the spaces designed or mandated to specifically deal with it or during this time of the year when the world commemorates the day set aside to acknowledge its continued existence i.e. World Day Against Child Labour. Most government, media, child rights or human rights spaces as a whole still sideline the issue of child labour.

Anex’s work is in three specific areas of children’s rights with two of the programmes extending their focus to include the older youth as well as adults namely, the youth development programme that extends its services to youth in the Central Karoo up to the age of 25years and the Counter Human Trafficking programme that renders services to all victims of trafficking, including adults. It is not by chance that the organisation has decided to tackle the three issues in tandem but it is as a result of a realisation made through our work with child domestic workers in the earlier years that all three are not only connected but they are interwoven and therefore it was paramount for the organisation to start tackling the other two issues in order to combat child labour within the province.

Although it is the foundation programme of the organisation that was established in 2003, the Anti Child Labour Programme continues to be the sole unfunded programme since inception and this, again, implies that to most out there, including the expected role players, it is not deemed a priority and yet there are not that many other organisations in the country that work with a specific focus to combat child labour.

It is hard enough trying to raise awareness amongst the general public, of which some sort of resistance or justification is to be expected but it can be extremely discouraging when meeting with apathy from peers in the professional and academic circles and this includes donors and funders as well as international development and humanitarian bodies if the exclusion of child labour as a focus when drawing up the Millennium Development Goals is anything to go by. Not to mention, government itself, where a lot of policies that would have an impact on the fight against child labour across departments always seem to neglect the issue of child labour as one of the specific focus areas, be it directly or indirectly.

In the Department of Labour’s minister’s budget speech, in May last year, there was no mention of child labour. The minister did however mention gender and persons with disabilities as the department’s priorities and yet the Department of Labour is the lead department in the implementation of the CLPA which has an interdepartmental approach. We see a repeat episode of this in this year’s budget vote speech where DoL’s minister, Honourable MN Oliphant, again, makes no mention of combating child labour specifically. I must, however, point out that out of most of the various other departments, the DoL section mandated to fight child labour has made an admirable attempt to step up to the plate, notwithstanding the highly discouraging oversight within the department’s budgeting process.

People seem to ignore the fact that human trafficking is facilitated by the need for cheap and vulnerable labour and it is a means established to provide this. Human trafficking should be, and if done correctly by the observer, is viewed as a process and a four-step one at that, which involves recruitment, transportation, trapping and then exploitation and when you are talking about child trafficking, child labour makes up most of that exploitation.

It is not, as people think, a foreign concept that only exists in some other far off lands like Asia or South America, neither is it the same as chores and therefore cannot be used interchangeably with the latter. In the most recent study, the Survey of Activities of Young People (SAYP) 2010 conducted by Stats SA, 3.2 million of the 11 million children between the ages of 7yrs & 17yrs in South Africa are said to be involved in economic activity which includes market production, production for own consumption and/or both. Of these, 90 000 are said to have been injured while carrying out this work.

Child labour deprives children of their childhood and renders them vulnerable not only to labour exploitation but also to other forms of exploitation. It hinders their development and this ultimately damages them as well as repeats the cycle of poverty within a family and a community.

Not only do we have child labour in the generic sense of the term, we also have the worst forms of child labour which are CSEC (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children), CUBAC (Children Used by Adults and older children to commit Crimes), debt bondage and while in South Africa you also have fetching water and begging included in this list, in other countries they also have the issue of children in armed conflict. Interestingly enough, the only time one gets any kind of undivided interest from the public, the media and colleagues in the Civil Society/ humanitarian sectors and even SAPS is when there is a mention of CSEC. Until that point the public, the media, the gender sector, medical professionals or most anybody else for that matter, only pretends to listen or to be concerned while over-nodding in an attempt to give the impression that they are interested in abolishing the pandemic or that they even consider it as serious an issue as all the others that feature on their priority list. It is true that this, CSEC, is a very serious issue, one of the worst in fact and of greatest concern and rightly so but its prioritisation certainly should not come at the expense of the other forms of exploitation or rather at the expense of the children who are exploited in other ways just as heinous like CUBAC for instance.

It is of the utmost importance that everyone starts to prioritise the issue and makes it their business to end child labour not only in order to advance the development of the nation but most importantly to protect our children.