Child labour horror – 16,000 being forced to work in Jamaica

(Jamaica Observer) At least 16,000 Jamaican children are being forced to engage in some form of economic activity, even as the Government tries to stem the problem through work with the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Marva Ximinnies, director of the Child Labour Unit in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, said of the 16,000 child labourers, just over 7,000 are engaged in more hazardous work — which includes prostitution, the production of pornographic material and child slavery. This information, she explained, was taken from the last official survey that the ministry relies on for its data.

The majority of Jamaica’s child workers are found in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries, while there have been prosecutions of persons who involve children in prostitution, she said. Other workers include street children and market vendors in the larger metropolitan areas of Kingston, Spanish Town and Montego Bay.

Jamaica’s child labourers are predominantly male, aged 15-17 years.

“Over 60 per cent of the children involved in child labour are usually found to be working in the agricultural sector. There were also children found to be working in manufacturing, construction and installation, while in wholesales and restaurants, a little over 4,000 were found to be working in those particular sectors,” Ximinnies said last week while addressing the Kiwanis Club of Kingston’s weekly luncheon held at the Wyndham Kingston Hotel.

“We have prosecuted and convicted persons trying to solicit children for prostitution,” Ximinnies explained. “Despite the work that we have been doing for the past 20 years we still have at least 215 million children remaining worldwide who are engaging in some form of economic activity. We have made great strides, however, as when we started there were a little over 500 million children who were so engaged.”

Ximinnies said the ministry is making efforts to conduct a second survey.

“We want to believe that the numbers are going south and not going north, and is due to our continued efforts by the various programmes that we have implemented, and that we are making an impact upon the lives of our children,” she said.

Data on the number of child labourers was found in the 2002 Youth Activity Survey in Jamaica, undertaken as part of a national programme to address the issue of child labour. Under Jamaican law, it is illegal for children under 15 years old to be engaged in any form of work.

“We have a particular situation in terms of domestic child labour, where persons send their child to other members of the family who are better off socially or economically to provide that child with economic conditions. And despite the fact that up to the primary level children are supposed to go to school free… that child is left in the home to become the domestic help for the family,” Ximinnies said.

This, she said, is a hidden activity that is not easily identified. Thus, it would take much vigilance from and concern of neighbours to notice and report these matters.

Ximinnies explained that the national response to child labour has been to implement a country programme and collect child labour data from various entities, including international partners. The Government, she said, is also working with a number of government and non-governmental organisations in trying to eradicate the problem.

The ILO, in its observance of World Day Against Child Labour on June 12, encouraged renewed urgency in tackling the worst forms of child labour.

Ximinnies reminded her audience that the Child Care and Protection Act does not exempt citizens from acting in a child’s interest, and anyone who suspects abuse is mandated to report it.

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