How child workers in the Asia-Pacific battling safety risks and poverty can be protected with education
The Asia-Pacific region has about 300 million workers aged between 15 and 24, comprising 20 per cent of its workforce. Poverty often pushes these young people to start working from an early age. They enter the workforce with virtually no knowledge about occupational safety and health (OSH).
Some young people start working from an even earlier age. About 62 million children aged between five and 17 are engaged in labour, with 28 million in hazardous work. Exploitative labour is a serious threat to their physical and mental development.
Many young workers in the Asia-Pacific are in the informal economy and are engaged in agricultural, industrial and artisanal work. These workplaces are out of the reach of OSH laws and are otherwise difficult to inspect.
Poor working conditions and a lack of OSH training often translates to higher rates of injury among workers who would otherwise have had a long working career ahead of them. They are also at risk of contracting occupational diseases with harmful long-term effects.
Governments, employers and workers need to continue to promote a culture of prevention by engaging in regular dialogues to set standards and to develop national OSH policies.
These policies must also be in line with international labour standards, in particular, the ILO Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No 187).
Encouragingly, there have been increased ratifications of the convention in the region.
While efforts to improve the current state of workplaces are critical, there must also be efforts to educate future generations in OSH. By one estimate, 65 per cent of children in primary school today will work in jobs that currently do not exist.
To ensure that these jobs do not jeopardise the welfare of future generations, it is crucial that children are educated from a young age. We must do all we can to ensure that young people are protected by OSH principles, so that they too are given the chance to work in a safe and healthy workplace.
Tomoko Nishimoto, assistant director general and regional director for Asia and the Pacific, International Labour Organisation