practice of child labour…
Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Voices against child labour have been raised by many, from time
to time. On June 12 every year, which is World Day Against Child
Labour, forums and seminars are held by institutions working
against this social disease. Yet, the world has over 218 million
girls and boys, aged between 5 and 14-years, work from sunup to
sundown, on farms and the plantations industry, tending
livestock, sowing, spraying pesticides and harvesting crops.
Yet, these expressions, made at different points of time and in
various situations, convey the all-important message “Seeking
justice for underprivileged children”.
“The Child Activity Survey of 1999, still the latest data we
have, recorded that, in Sri Lanka, 551,238 girls and boys are
employed as agricultural workers, while another 37,741 are
employed as industrial crops related workers,” the Director of
International Labour Organisation (ILO) - Sri Lanka, Tine
Staermose said at the World Day Against Child Labour – 2007
commemoration forum held at JAIC Hilton, last Friday.
It was revealed that the survey of 1999, by the Department of
Census and Statistics, with technical and financial support from
the ILO, has not been updated to date. However, the ILO, on the
request of the Ministry of Labour, is presently looking into the
possibility of supporting a new child labour survey that will
provide updated information pertaining to child labour. This
would facilitate a comprehensive time-bound programme to
eliminate select worst forms of child labour in Sri Lanka.
This year, the focus is on occupational hazards for children
working in the agricultural sector of the country, under the
theme “Agriculture without Child Labour”.
Ms Staermose said, “The phenomenon of child labour in
agriculture is not something peculiar to Sri Lanka or, South
Asia or, even confined only to the Asian region. In fact, it is
a phenomenon found in regions worldwide. At last year’s World
Against Child Labour, an ILO Global Report revealed that of 218
million child labourers in the world, 70% worked in the
agricultural sector. The report also revealed that 9 out of 10
children in the rural sector are working in agriculture”. She
further added that in Ampara, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and
Moneragala, the seasonal nature of the work undertaken by
children, tends to translate into irregular school attendance
among children who help with either family farming or commercial
farming – a contradiction of the principles and standards
entrenched in both ILO Convention 138 and 182 and also the UNCRC.
After having undertaken a thorough occupational analysis,
through an intensive and representative participatory process,
Sri Lanka has determined seven forms of agricultural occupations
as hazardous from among a list of 49 such hazardous forms of
child labour: They are –
*Any work entailing the use of pesticides
*Any work connected with the act of fishing (fishing is
considered part of the agricultural sector here)
*Any work directly involving bio hazardous substances including
*Any work related to felling of trees
*Any work in the forest (as in the case of children going into
the deep forests of Manampitiya in Polonnaruwa to cut cane)
*Tree climbing for commercial purposes
*Agricultural and plantation work necessitating contact with
Secretary, Ministry of Child Development and Women’s
Empowerment, Indrani Sugathadasa who also addressed the forum
said, “As we have focused on elimination of child labour in
agriculture, there are children participating in family farm
activities, which, according to ILO convention, jeopardizes and
harms children’s wellbeing and development which is a violation
of their rights. Hence, it is necessary we place them in safer
and non-exploitative alternatives or, we run the risk of them
moving into worse forms of child labour”.
Prof. Siri Hettige Sagara Chandrasekara of The Social Policy
Analysis and Research Center, University of Colombo, explained
the overall issue in child labour as: High cost of adult labour,
non enrolment in school, dropping out, high cost of schooling,
poor performance in school and lack of access to good schools.
He also outlined one of the 2007 objectives as, to eliminate the
number of migrant families (displaced population).
ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour
(IPEC) gave a slide show briefing their programmes conducted for
underprivileged youth under 18.
The finale to the commemorative function saw two lovely skits by
the children of “Daru Setha Centres” of the Koggala and Beruwela
branches of the National Workers Congress. The skits highlighted
the plight of children unable to attend school, engaged in
harvesting and fishing in their villages.
Other distinguished guests from ILO, Ceylon Workers Congress,
Ministry of Labour Relations and Manpower and the National Child
Protection Authority also addressed the audience.
We may not reflect upon those behind making cane chairs, match
sticks and boxes, cinnamon peeling or, even getting us our daily
rice….but, the undeniable fact is children’s hands being behind
one of these produces, which, pathetically, we are not mindful
An American social worker, Grace Abbott, who worked
specifically, in advancing child welfare, said, “Child labour
and poverty are inevitably bound together and, if you continue
to use child labour to resolve poverty, you will have both
poverty and child labour till the end of time”. So, could we act