CRIME OF THE CEN­TURY; 152 MIL­LION CHILD LABOUR­ERS

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - EDITORIAL -

World spir­i­tual lead­ers have warned us that those who abuse chil­dren or in­dulge in child labour would and should be thrown into the deep­est ocean with a mill­stone tied rounds their necks. Chil­dren are dev­as­tat­ingly hon­est and in­no­cent that is why the heav­enly realms com­prise peo­ple who have the hon­esty and in­no­cence of chil­dren. Seen in this light many of our lead­ers -- po­lit­i­cal, so­cial, busi­ness and even re­li­gious lead­ers -- ap­pear to be sadly lack­ing in hon­esty, in­no­cence and a spirit of sin­cere, sac­ri­fi­cial and self­less ser­vice to the peo­ple, es­pe­cially those caught in the poverty trap of a wicked world. There­fore such lead­ers face a fate that is too hor­ri­ble to be imag­ined.

June 12, was the World Day against Child Labour. Ac­cord­ing to the In­dian Ex­press group some 152 mil­lion chil­dren are caught up in the tor­ture of child labour with some 73 mil­lion be­ing forced to get in­volved in haz­ardous work.

The United Na­tions, which mark this day world­wide is call­ing for an end to the bru­tal­i­ties of child labour. De­spite the ef­forts made by NGOS and gov­ern­ments, the plight of il­le­gal young labour­ers is a re­al­ity of so­ci­ety that we live in and we need to con­front it with all the power at our dis­posal.

Ac­cord­ing to the UN, in 2002, the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion (ILO) launched the World Day Against Child Labour to fo­cus at­ten­tion on the global ex­tent of child labour and the ac­tion and ef­forts needed to elim­i­nate it. Each year on June 12, the World Day brings to­gether gov­ern­ments, em­ploy­ers and work­ers’ or­ga­ni­za­tions, civil so­ci­ety and mil­lions of peo­ple from around the world to high­light the plight of child labour­ers and what can be done to help them.

In a mes­sage, ILO Direc­tor-gen­eral Guy Ry­der says Chil­dren are more vul­ner­a­ble to risk than adults. It is a pri­or­ity in the wider ILO cam­paigns against child labour and for safe and healthy work for youth of le­gal work­ing age – “Gen­er­a­tion Safe and Healthy ”. The child labour­ers are toil­ing in mines and fields, fac­to­ries and homes, ex­posed to pes­ti­cides and other toxic sub­stances, car­ry­ing heavy loads or work­ing long hours. Many suf­fer life­long phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal con­se­quences. Their very lives can be at risk.

No child un­der the age of 18 should per­form haz­ardous work as stip­u­lated in the ILO’S Con­ven­tions on child labour, namely the Min­i­mum Age Con­ven­tion, 1973 (No. 138) and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Con­ven­tion, 1999 (No. 182). They re­quire gov­ern­ments, in con­sul­ta­tion with so­cial part­ners, to es­tab­lish and en­force a na­tional list of haz­ardous work pro­hib­ited for chil­dren. Rat­i­fi­ca­tion of these Con­ven­tions by 171 and 181 Ilo-mem­ber States re­spec­tively -- close to univer­sal rat­i­fi­ca­tion – re­flects a com­mit­ment to end child labour in all its forms. It is time to step up ac­tion, the ILO says.

A new ILO re­port, ‘To­wards the Ur­gent Elim­i­na­tion of Haz­ardous Child Labour’, finds that cer­tain oc­cu­pa­tional haz­ards -- in­clud­ing ex­po­sure to psy­cho­log­i­cal stress and to com­monly-used chem­i­cals -- are even more se­ri­ous for chil­dren than pre­vi­ously thought.

An­other key find­ing is that ado­les­cence, as a pe­riod of phys­i­cal mat­u­ra­tion, may start ear­lier and last into the mid-twen­ties. Within this ex­tended pe­riod of growth, chil­dren (and young adults), face a range of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties that re­quire re­sponses in law and prac­tice.

In Sri Lanka, child labour may not be as ex­ten­sive as in many other coun­tries. But some­times poverty-stricken fam­i­lies who have no means of feed­ing or giv­ing ed­u­ca­tion or health­care to their chil­dren are forced to send them for house­hold work in the fam­i­lies of rich and rul­ing elite. Such fam­i­lies need to en­sure that the chil­dren while help­ing in the house­hold work are pro­vided ed­u­ca­tion and health­care fa­cil­i­ties. They need to re­mem­ber that just us­ing or abus­ing a child is a crime that will bring penal­ties of hell-fire.

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