Law Preventing Move Against Child Labor

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Features editor – Sunday

from the Jamaica Observer

A law that gives labour inspectors the authority to survey established work places and not the informal sector is preventing the Ministry of Labour from effectively curbing child labour.

According to director of the ministry’s Child Labour Unit, Marva Ximinnies, of the near 3,000 inspections it conducted in the financial year just ended, it identified no incidents of child labour in Jamaica.

This, despite the daily sightings of children of all ages in town centres selling juices, chocolates, cleaning windshields, pushing handcarts, or engaged in other forms of work.

“We have not had any such cases of child labour in spite of the fact that our labour inspectors have done close to 3,000 cases,” she told Observer reporters and editors at the newspaper’s Monday Exchange yesterday.

That is so, she asserted, because the existing Factories Act and the accompanying regulations rendered labour inspectors powerless as regards to the informal sector.

“The present piece of legislation has a workplace or workspace defined in a particular way and therefore, where we would find most of the children who we need to provide with assistance and with some intervention is in the informal sector, and currently [we don’t operate there],” added Ximinnies.

“We don’t carry out inspections in the informal sector because the regulations do not allow our labour officers to do so,” she said.

The International Labour Organisation, with which Jamaica co-operates, says only prescribed forms of work are allowable for children between 13 and 17 and has separate prescribed lists for the 13-15 and 15-17 age groups.

“For those two lists to be enforced, we need to enact the Occupational Health and Safety Act,” Ximinnies said, making the distinction between light work (allowable for children 13-15) and hazardous work (allowable for those between 15 and 17).

“That particular piece of legislation has been reviewed and re-reviewed and we’re hoping it will be enacted soon because it will give our labour inspectors far more powers than they currently have,” she said.

The Child Care and Protection Act does have some provisions where steps can be taken to do the necessary interventions, she pointed out, but given that labour inspectors fall under the purview of the labour ministry, it might be effective if the definition of workplace under the law were broadened to include informal activities.

“It might be more suitable if our labour inspectors where empowered to enter any workspace, whether it be in the formal sector or the informal sector; if they can enter and identify any incidence of child labour,” she said.

A national survey carried out in 2002 indicated that there were 16,423 children who were engaged in “some economic activity” and of that number, just over 7,000 were found to have been engaged in the “worst forms of child labour” which include activities that jeopardise the children’s physical, mental, and psychological development and well-being.

A UNICEF-sponsored report in 1994 found that there were about 22,000 children who were so engaged.

Read more:

Ignorance fuels acceptance of child labour

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY Senior staff reporter

THE Ministry of Labour and Social Security has confessed to being caught in a bind in its efforts to open the eyes of Jamaicans that child labour, which is for the most part accepted as ‘normal’, is wrong.

Speaking at the weekly Observer Monday Exchange yesterday, Marva Ximinnies, acting director for the Child Labour Unit of the ministry, said ingrained cultural practices have resulted in many Jamaicans accepting the “many faces of child labour” as normal.

Marva Ximinnies, acting director for the Child Labour Unit of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, addressing reporters and editors at yesterday’s Observer Monday Exchange. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

“We are grateful for this opportunity to be sharing with the media information on child labour, because the public is not aware that there is such a phenomenon that we call child labour and that we need to be addressing it. It is an area we need to put on our national development agenda,” she said.

“Popular local culture creates a barrier for the work that we would want to be engaged in because we have a long tradition of taking children out of school, mainly market days or commercial days, so usually — not only in rural Jamaica but in the urban centres — children are taken out of schools to assist parents with vending,” Ximinnies said.

“Selling on the streets is not supposed to happen, we consider it to be one of the worst forms of child labour, they are exposed to the natural elements and exploitation,” she said. “People will say ‘my father used to let me carry out the goats or the cow before going to school’ and they lived to tell the story, but the fact is that their parents still allowed them to go to school.”

Conceding that the ignorance was fed by the fact that “not much is known about child labour locally” Ximinnies said limited preliminary data are based on a 1994 United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) survey which had indicated that there were about 22,000 children engaged in child labour in Jamaica.

“When the Government began its country programme in 2000 there was no current or reliable data on child labour from a Government standpoint because up to that particular point in time we had not undertaken a survey for ourselves,” she noted.

As a precursor to the implementation of the national programme, several baseline surveys were conducted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) with the assistance of local consultants on child prostitution and others focusing on the major tourist towns, the fishing beaches in Clarendon and St Catherine and within the urban and informal areas surrounding Spanish Town.

“Those surveys indicated that children were involved in the agricultural sector, they were diving up fishpots, children at the tender age of six and eight, gutting and scaling fish; outside of that they would stay on the beaches or within the environs without attending school,” she told reporters and editors, noting that the research also indicated that a number of those children were not registered at birth.

“So for all intents and purposes they don’t exist. In Montego Bay and Negril it did indicate that there were children who were being sexually exploited for commercial gains. They were also involved in vending in the markets and other commercial areas,” she said.

A subsequent 2001 National Survey indicated that there were 16,420 children who were engaged in some economic activity at the time, with a little over 7,000 of that number being engaged in “the worst forms of child labour”, the labour ministry official said.

Ximinnies also said that while local officials would want to believe that the number has continued to decline, “international partners are indicating that it is not so”.

“So we are hoping that in 2012 we would be able, with their assistance, to conduct a national survey because the information is dated,” she said.

She was careful to point out that the ministry was in no way saying children should not help around the home, nor was it “all work that is being targeted for elimination”.

“We are concerned, not about the fact that your parents are giving you chores, yes you can do household chores, but children are not to be engaged in any activity we would consider detrimental to their moral, physical and psychological well-being. What we are targeting for immediate elimination are the worst forms of child labour which, unfortunately, a lot of the children in our society are engaged in,” Ximinnies emphasised.

She said while 16,000 locally might not seem like much against the estimated 158 million children ages 5 -14 that are said to be engaged in child labour globally, the mistake would be to ignore the situation.

“Locally the perception is that it’s not a problem, but it is a problem, and it is a problem that if we continue to ignore and not make the links in terms of the broader national development agenda we eventually could find ourselves in a situation where we are not educating enough persons to provide the nation with a skilled labour force. It’s important that we pay the issue of child labour some attention,” she added.

Under the Compulsory Education Act, all children in Jamaica are supposed to be in school up to age 16. Sections 33 to 35 of the Child Care and Protection Act address the issue of child labour. The worst forms of child labour include child trafficking, forced labour, domestic servitude among others.

According to Section 33 of the Child Care and Protection Act, no person should employ a child under the age of 13 years. A child may, however, be employed between the ages of 13 and 15 in certain occupations.

“Light work is work that is not supposed to be dangerous or harmful to the child, it should not interfere with the child’s schooling and they are not supposed to be combining work with school, so therefore these are activities that they can be engaged in during the times when they are out of school and should not be for more than one or two hours,” Ximinnies said.

Read more: