Child Labour in Barbados- A Hidden Problem
When many of us think of child labour, we imagine children slaving away in sweat shops or on farms, “working the streets” and child prostitution.
However, child labour is a much wider concept. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), what we consider child labour is actually the “worst forms of child labour” (WFCL) which refers to the use of children in prostitution, pornography, illicit activities, slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and forced recruitment for use in armed conflict.
However child labour generally refers to any activities that harms the physical and mental wellbeing of the child and which impedes on the child’s education and development. Therefore, a child braiding hair on weekends to earn extra money would not be necessarily child labour. However, if this child braids hair instead of attending school, then this activity is child labour.
In relation to child labour, the international definition for a child is a person under 18 years old. However, in Barbados, child labour is labour performed by a child under 16 years because schooling is compulsory for children ages 5-16.
Child labour is an international problem. The ILO estimated that in developing countries alone, about 250 million children between the ages of 5-14 years are involved in some form of economic activity and that at least 120 million of these children are working full time. It was also estimated that for Latin America and the Caribbean combined, 17% of children between the ages of 5-14 years worked.
For Barbados, there is little quantitative information available that provides a measure of the number of children involved in child labour. However, in an ILO sponsored rapid assessment carried out by Dr. Leith Dunn, Research Coordinator, it became apparent that there is child labour in Barbados, even in the worst forms. According to the report, which was primarily based on findings from focus groups and interviews with representatives from a number of social agencies, law enforcement and even the children themselves, there are children in Barbados involved in:
- Pornography and prostitution,
- Illicit activities such as drug trafficking and
- Hazardous activities
For example, there were incidences where children would either stay away from school to work (such as a 13 year old boy who would assist in mixing concrete for housing construction) or where children would attend school regularly but would work part-time in jobs which would sometimes have the children working into late hours of the night. Such activities would deprive them of the time needed for homework, leisure and rest and would therefore interfere with their education and general development.
Child labour is a social plague that can erode the moral and cultural foundation of any society. It is exploitative in nature and can have detrimental effects on a child’s educational and psychological development. When a child participates in the worst forms of child labour, his/her self esteem and self confidence is damaged and the child remains vulnerable to further exploitation, even in their adulthood.
Furthermore, a child’s involvement in hazardous or sexual activities puts his/her health at increased risk. The spread of HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, mental disorders and disabilities are just a few of the health problems that can affect the children who are exploited through the worst forms of child labour.
The effects of child labour can also escalate into a continuous cycle of social problems as the children who were involved in child labour and who were deprived of a complete education would most likely participate in illicit activities and, which in turn could lead to increased incidences of juvenile delinquency. Furthermore, as adults, these children are more likely to participate in criminal activities, which could lead to incarceration.
The Ministry of Labour and Civil Service intends to make every effort to eliminate any child labour activities. Therefore, the Ministry of Labour has been actively working to eliminate child labour in Barbados through a working committee, which pools together the resources and expertise of social agencies like the Welfare Department and Child Care Board, law enforcement agencies such as the Royal Barbados Police Force and the Probation Office and other relevant partners such as the Ministry of Education and Youth Affairs, the trade unions and non-governmental organizations.
Several sub-committees have been formed and have undertaken work in a number of areas such as the harmonization of legislation, the development of a survey instrument for child economic activities and the definition of Hazardous Work as it relates to child labour in Barbados. An educational programme for selected interest groups was also developed as it was recognized that education is one of the most important activities to be undertaken by the Ministry to address issues pertaining to WFCL.
Through the efforts of this committee, it is hoped that incidences of child labour be identified and eliminated to ensure a future of promise for all children.
The People’s Perspective:
Do you believe that child labour exist in Barbados?
Jah-zeel: As far as I can see, no. The only instance that I know of is when a teacher was concerned over a child’s performance at school and when she asked the parents, the mother said she (the child) had to work at night to help pay some bills.
Malcolm: Yes. Children want their own dollar to spend so they work not to depend on their parents. I see quite a lot with children washings cars on a regular basis.
Sealy: No, I don’t think so.
Marie: Sometimes but not on a wide scale.
Ashley: I guess to a certain extent. I don’t think in a general basis. I think in poor homes you would find it, where the child has to find money to help support the family.
Barry: Yes, I used to know of a girl who mother would let her do a job and not go school.
Jane: People don’t see it but I think it does but not in the formal sector but more in the informal sector like washing cars for money.
Patricia: Well if what I read in the paper is true with children going to the islands to sell drugs, well I guess so and considering how much money these children have, you wonder where it’s coming from.
Published: Sunday, 14th May, 2006