Why child labour persistsYesterday was the World Day Against Child Labour. Can you imagine not having had a childhood? Can you imagine not giving your child a childhood? According to Nepal Child Labour Report, 2010, for 1.6 million children between five and 17 years, not having a childhood is the reality.
Yesterday was the World Day Against Child Labour. Can you imagine not having had a childhood? Can you imagine not giving your child a childhood? According to Nepal Child Labour Report, 2010, for 1.6 million children between five and 17 years, not having a childhood is the reality.
Approximately 168 million children are engaged in child labour globally, and Unicef estimates that one in 10 children live in conflict-affected areas. Children are most susceptible to child labour in times of disasters and conflicts. Nepal knows this all too well, with bitter experiences from the civil war and the earthquake. The problem of child labour remains as entrenched as ever even years after both events.
The Government of Nepal (GoN) has signed various international conventions including the UN Child Rights’ Convention (in 1990), the ILO Conventions on Minimum Age No 138 (in 2003) and on the Worst Forms of Child Labour No 182 (in 2004). At the national level, the GoN has established the Children’s Act (1992), the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act (2000) and the Kamaiya Labour (Prohibition) Act (2002). If we have regulations that ban child labour, why does the problem still exist?
One of the most prominent reasons cited for this is poverty. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) reported in 2015 that 25.2 percent of the Nepali population lived below the national poverty line. The sentiment that children’s income can supplement household income is common among people here—so much so that many people in some regions of Nepal will tell you, “My child brings money home if I send him to work. If I educate him, what return will it give me?” The trade-off between short- and long-term gains is something most people have a hard time envisioning, thereby perpetuating the problem of child labour. Our existing culture of exploitative labour is also to blame. We live in a society where child labour seems socially acceptable (seems, not is). As long as we do not question the practice of a little kid serving us momos or charging us for our microbus rides, we are normalising the phenomenon.
Situations of conflict and disasters further exacerbate the problem of child labour. Children may be displaced from their families during such times: recall the numerous instances from the civil war as well as the earthquake where children being separated from their families made the news regularly. In absence of an informal support system including family or community that may be able to provide immediate support to the child, we would hope to rely on formal systems, including policies and regulations for protection. But even this can be misleading, as our experiences have taught us.
With poverty as a strong driver of child labour, there is one glaring need—the need to create alternatives, with education at the centre.
Need for alternatives
If one thing is for certain, it is this: people will never prioritise education until and unless their family can afford decent meals every day. And we will never move past such grim issues without an educated society.
Therefore, we need to invest in skills-training and vocational education for the country’s parents and youths so that they can find a means of employment. If we are asking parents to send their children to school, we also need to create an environment where this can be a possibility for everyone. Once they have a stable source of income, families can then begin to think about education for their offspring. We need to ensure that parents and community members understand why child labour will have a crippling effect not only on the fate of the country, but also on the fate of their child.
Our work with parents and community members can further serve to tackle the social norms that make us so complacent to the sight of working children. The rates of children enrolled in school will only go up if the families and communities understand the importance of education. Additionally, we can work with government bodies and the civil society to set up monitoring mechanisms in the fight against child labour. This can be further coupled with learning tours for members of both the bodies so that there is first-hand knowledge about the issue at the micro-level. This will help formulate realistic policies at the macro-level.
Advocacy efforts to uproot child labour through regulations need to go hand in hand with advocacy efforts to create alternatives for children and their families so that parents do not rely on children to supplement the family income. We owe it to the future of our country to give children the childhood they deserve.
Basnyat has an MSc in Global Governance and Diplomacy from the University of Oxford