Commemoration of World Day Against Child Labour 2017 | Sunday Observer

Commemoration of World Day Against Child Labour 2017

The International Labour Organization (ILO) in collaboration with UNICEF and Girl Guides’ Association organized an event to commemorate World Day Against Child Labour. It was held at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute, Colombo on June 22, 2017. The commemoration of World Day Against Child Labour which falls on June 12 every year was postponed to June 22 due to the the recent floods and landslides. This year, the theme is “Protect children from child labour in conflicts and disasters.” According to the theme, a future free of child labour in Sri Lanka and around the world with a specific focus on how to protect children from child labour in situations of conflict disasters both natural and man-made, was discussed.

At present, there are 48, 421 children engaged in child labour in Sri Lanka. The Asia and Pacific region is known to have the highest number of children engaged in child labour which is, approximately, 78 million or roughly 1 in 10. Against this backdrop of dismal figures, there is room however, for some optimism in Sri Lanka.

According to the “Report on Child Activity Survey 2016-Sri Lanka” published by the Department of Census and Statistics, Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, Sri Lanka has made substantial improvements in the child labour arena, in recent decades. This is apparent from the trends in working children, child labour and children in hazardous forms of child labour. Relative to 1999, Sri Lanka has observed a drastic decline in the population of working children which currently stands at 103,704.

A sizable decline has also occurred in hazardous forms of child labour, yet, some challenges persist. In 2016, there was a total of 4,571,442 children in Sri Lanka, of which 103,704 (2.3%) were working children. Moreover, there are still 43, 714 children (1%) in child labour as of 2016, of which 39,007 are engaged in hazardous forms of child labour. As many as 85% of Sri Lanka’s working children reside in rural areas. The top three regions in this regard are Gampaha, Kurunegala and Moneragala. Many of these working children work as contributing family members.

Simrin Singh, ILO Country Director, S.A.N. Sarantissa, Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Trade Union Relations and Sabaragamuwa Development, Sonali Moonesinghe from the ILO, Savitri Goonesekere, Board Member, Global Partnership to End Violence against Children, P. Mahadevah, Commissioner of Labour – Women and Children’s Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Chandra Kumara, Program Manager, NGO Protecting Environment and Children Everywhere, Dr. Paula Bulancea, Deputy Representative, UNICEF, children, parents and civil society were present to commemorate the event.

According to the ILO Country Director, Simrin Singh, as many as 168 million children around the globe are engaged in child labour with 85 million of them working in conditions that are clearly hazardous and prohibited by law. “Many of these children live in conflict and disaster affected areas and have entered or remained in child labour as a result of these. Sri Lanka stands at a delicate moment in making child labour one for history books. It is precisely this 1%, often the hardest to reach, the most vulnerable, that we need to dedicate our energies to bring the incidence down to a zero.

“The conflict in the past scarred the childhood of many and left them with no other choice but to work. The recent floods, droughts and the devastating 2004 Tsunami, exacerbated the multi-dimensional vulnerabilities that push children into Labour. Climate change is not disappearing and children should be prepared to face it and we have to make sure they do not suffer the consequences through a childhood of exploitation and harm. We need to fully eliminate child labour in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan children are no longer vulnerable to the ill effects of disasters, which if not tackled can reverse all the hard earned progress made to date. The Sustainable Development Goals have set an ambitious target (Target 8.7 under Goal 8) of zero child labour by 2025. Sri Lanka is well on its way to being the showcase of this target being achieved. Let us commit to working doubly hard to ensure that progress is not stalled or reversed in the face of disasters,” Singh said.

“Public awareness and the strong engagement of the community is essential to end child labour,” said P. Mahadevah, Commissioner of Labour. Sonali Moonesinghe from the ILO said, they will be visiting the recent flood and landslide affected areas. “30% of Sri Lanka’s population is children, so children should be perceived agents of change, not mere victims of disasters. Children’s voices should be heard and prioritized. Policy makers need to focus more on disaster preparedness, prevention and mitigation. Children must have continuing access to post-disaster education and schooling, be informed, aware and engaged in processes that reduce their vulnerability and exposure to child labour, both, hazardous and non-hazardous,” she said.

According to the policy implications of the ILO, parental engagement, awareness, gender-sensitive policies and improvements in working conditions are necessary to reduce child labour.

The school enrolment rate among working children is dramatically lower than children who do not engage in economic activities. Parents of working children themselves have relatively low levels of education. Hence, awareness on the importance of education needs to be delivered with the help of local authorities. 36% of the children work in unsafe working conditions.

Illness and injury due to work jeopardize their school attendance. Though the minimum age for employment is 14, in Sri lanka, workers are not allowed to join unions until the age of 16.

Hence, government, trade unions and employers need to work together to improve working conditions and re frame the current policy frameworks to better address the needs of the working children.

The commemoration came to a conclusion with a beautiful theatrical play by the children of the Ranwala Padanama. The play titled “Taitan Poddo” portrayed the beauty of childhood and about child labour. The children acted their roles perfectly and brought out the theme of child labour well. 

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