COLUMN: Young workers in peril

According to the United Nations, there are 168 million child labourers.

Today (June 12) is the World Day Against Child Labour.  It is a day to raise awareness about the unfortunate problem of child labour in this world, and to also find solutions to this extensive problem.

According to the United Nations, there are 168 million child labourers, and of these millions of young children that should be going to school and getting a proper education, 85 million are engaged in hazardous work.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), “ ‘child labour’ is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.”

The organization further notes that the “worst forms” include labour in which children are enslaved and forced into conflict, prostitution, drug production and transportation, and “hazardous work” which could lead to serious injury or death.

While there has been a decrease in the number of child labourers worldwide, much progress needs to be made.

For this year’s campaign, the ILO is stressing the need for governments to address the causes that can lead to child labour.  It encourages the development of social programs such as social safety net measures related to health, maternity, and unemployment benefits.

It also emphasizes the need for helping those facing disabilities or work-related injuries.  Such programs can help alleviate the financial burdens that a family might face and help prevent child labour.

It should be noted that “the ILO estimates that more than five billion people – about 73 per cent of the world population – do not have access to adequate social protection.”  This is a significant number of individuals who in the face of destitution, health problems, or employment uncertainty would not have the proper financial and social support systems available to them.

Like many other issues facing our society, there are linkages and core problems that can have far-reaching effects. The ILO’s focus on addressing the socioeconomic deficiencies that contribute to child labour is a welcome addition to the global fight against this social issue.

It should further reinforce the concept that social problems do not exist in silos, but rather have many common elements which need to be addressed. The manifestation of a problem such as child labour, therefore, requires both an approach of addressing the issue at hand, while also looking at what efforts need to be made in other areas to fully eliminate the causes.

To help eliminate child labour, we collectively need to reflect on the severe problems that exist at the global level. It is also important for us to examine our own domestic child labour laws and their implementation.

For instance, we need to further analyze and discuss federal and provincial minimum working age laws and the protections offered to our young workers through these pieces of legislation.

If you are a young worker in B.C., please visit the following WorkSafe BC link to download a guide that emphasizes workplace safety and explains what rights you have as a worker:

To show your support for the fight against child labour, you can join ILO’s Red Card to Child Labour campaign on social media (#RedCard).

Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University. He writes regularly for The Leader.


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