Ending child labour requires collaboration and patient work
Kanie Siu says the encouraging drop in the number of child workers over the years shows the problem can be effectively tackled by working together
June 12 is the World Day Against Child Labour, an occasion to focus on the heart-rending situations facing millions of working children worldwide. Globally, 400 million children are living on less than HK$10 a day, and 168 million give up school to earn a living.
Earlier this year, I visited India and witnessed the harm of child labour. Children picking rags for a living are a common sight in Delhi. Due to poor hygiene, they often get infected with skin diseases.
I met one girl who, in order to support her family, makes and sells sling shots with her mother at home. At the age of 16, she is still illiterate and does not even know the alphabet as she has never had the opportunity to go to school.
In India, nearly 300 million people live in extreme poverty. Due to expensive school fees and poor teaching quality, many parents would rather keep their children out of school and start them working at a young age. It is estimated that India has 60 million child labourers. Girls are twice as likely as boys to drop out of school and work at home.
Apart from rag picking, over 1.7 million children, predominantly girls, are employed in the beedi cigarette rolling industry. Most girls work at least 14 hours a day to meet targets. They skip meals and avoid drinking water throughout the day just to save time going to the toilet. Despite the arduous work, they earn less than US$2 a day.
In May 2015, the Indian government passed legislation to prohibit children between 14 and 18 years old from engaging in hazardous occupations. However, children under 14 are allowed to work in non-hazardous family enterprises and entertainment occupations. Despite the government’s aspiration to eliminate child labour, the new laws have failed to strengthen the protection for children as domestic labour is legalised.
To end child labour, concerted efforts are needed from different parties. For example, in India, we are working with the government, police and various organisations by supporting law enforcement action and advocating law reform. We provide financial support to needy families and offer bridging courses for working children to help them return to formal schooling. By organising youth forums in communities, we can educate parents and children about the harm of child labour and the importance of education.
The problem can be addressed. In the past 15 years, the numbers involved in child labour have dropped by 32 per cent, from 246 million to 168 million. Yet, we still have a long way to go. It is time to step up our collaborative efforts and rethink our strategies so that more children can return to school and enjoy a proper childhood.
Kanie Siu is CEO of Plan International Hong Kong