More than two-thirds of the estimated 152 million children in child labour do so as family labourers. – International Labour Organisation (ILO)
Today, somewhere in Nigeria, an 11-year-old girl will help her mother carry a basket of vegetables to her stall in the market; vegetables she helped harvest. She will later return to her mother’s stall after school to help her mind the stall. She does this most days except on Sundays; this is how it’s always been. In some other part of the world, a 12-year-old boy will attend to customers in his father’s hardware store. He does this only on Saturdays when he’s not in school even though he’d rather be playing games with his friends. In yet another part of the world, a 14-year-old boy will walk from street to street selling oranges. He no longer goes to school and sells oranges every day to help his family. These are a few examples showing children involved in work. The question that needs answering is: what differentiates child labour from other forms of ‘work’ children are involved in? As we commemorate World Day against Child Labour today, 12 June, it is vital to reflect on the issues, understand the distinction between child labour and work involving children and commit to protecting children from child labour now.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO), defines child labour as ‘work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to their physical and mental development’. This includes work carried out over long hours in an unsafe environment, requiring the use of dangerous tools or making the child carry objects that are too heavy. Child labour also refers to work that is socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children. The use of children for debt bondage, serfdom, child prostitution and pornography, forced or compulsory recruitment for armed conflict, drug trafficking, among others are examples of child labour. Child work, on the other hand, refers to work that children do to help their families in ways that are neither harmful nor exploitative. According to the ILO, this includes activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays.
It is apparent from these definitions that not all kinds of work done by a child within the family setting qualify as child work. Research by the ILO has shown that more than two-thirds of the estimated 152 million children in child labour do so as family labourers, with over 70% of work reported as agriculture related work carried out on family farms and in family enterprises. The use of children to do family-related agricultural work is widespread in Africa from which nearly 50% of Child Labour cases in the world are recorded.
In a recent study conducted by Propcom Mai-karfi to understand child labour in the context of Northern Nigeria, about 50% of the children surveyed were reported to have worked an average of three and a half hours a day performing agriculture related tasks like pesticides/herbicides application, fertiliser application, harvesting, and herding. Other non-agriculture tasks they performed included street hawking, firewood fetching and operating grinding machines. It is easy for parents to see these tasks as child work, especially as they are for the benefit of the family, however, they expose children to hazards such as fumes from harmful pesticides, extreme heat from hawking for hours under the sun, loud noise (tractor), superficial injuries/open wounds, among others. These are elements of child labour and should not be seen as anything other than that.
How then can families distinguish between child labour and child work? According to ECLT Foundation, an organisation that is working towards achieving a world free of child labour, the following are some questions parents and guardians should ponder before involving children in work, which would help them determine whether that work qualifies as child labour or not.
1. Would this work take up too much time and prevent the child from going to school?
2. Would this work make the child too tired to go to school or do homework?
3. Would the child still have time to play and participate in social/family activities?
4. How does the child feel emotionally while doing the work? Does any part of the work make the child feel unsafe, excluded or threatened?
5. How does the child feel physically while doing the work and after doing the work?
6. Does this work involve using or being around chemicals, like fertilisers, heavy machinery or sharp tools?
7. Is any part of this work illegal?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, then that work is classified as child labour and children should not be involved in it.
What then can key stakeholders such as the government, civil society groups and others do to clamp down on child labour? They need to increase awareness efforts to educate parents and the populace on the distinction between child labour and child work. But importantly, they must sensitise the populace on the ills of child labour; its short-term impact on a child’s mental and physical health and long-term impact on a population’s growth, literacy level and health. Relevant government agencies can make free education available to encourage parents to enrol their children in school. The government should also pursue strict enforcement of policies and laws that make it illegal to subject children to child labour.
Children are often said to be the future of a nation. If this must hold true, then children must be protected from child labour and allowed to be children. They must be cared for, educated and given all the opportunities to grow into healthy, upstanding members of their community. The alternative is for children to grow up uneducated, lacking in mental advancement and social principles, and steeped deeper into poverty with all its attendant issues. Is this the kind of future we want for our children?
To commemorate world Day against Child Labour, the ILO is organising a high-level debate today (12 June 2020) themed COVID-19 and Child labour: Looking forward in times of crisis. Tune in to watch the debate today at 3.30p.m (Nigerian time) on YouTube.
Useful resources on Child labour:
- Child Labour
- Alliance 8.7
- ILO child labour platform