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Nov 10, 2017

Working to Reduce Child Labour in Belize

Youth Empowerment Services and the Child Development Foundation partnered today to find out the status of children in the work force, particularly in the sugar industry. Available data shows that children below the ages of eighteen are already working in the industry and have dropped out of school. Forty-two percent of the population comprises children and a consultation with public and private sector stakeholders today looked at the laws protecting children from child labor. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

 

Diana Shaw, Child Development Foundation

“People are not aware of the legal ramifications and the legal mechanisms that are there. So they assume that because the child is fourteen and they have social security card, then that means that they can do any kind of work.”

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

Culturally, “a child” may mean someone who has not yet reached puberty or leaves home or even begins to work. But according to the Convention of the Rights of a Child, “a child” is defined as any person who is under the age of eighteen. Making up about forty-two percent of the Belizean population, they are a great resource; but a large number of that population is victim to child labor, particularly in the agricultural industries. Under the laws of Belize, a child can legally work from the age of fourteen.

 

Diana Shaw

Diana Shaw

“This was an issue affecting children across the country and they identified certain industries that were vulnerable. The sugar cane industry was one of the industries that were vulnerable; the citrus industry and the banana industry were also identified. This project is actually part of a larger project; the accompany measures for sugar program. The Government of Belize has received funding from the E.U. to improve conditions in the sugar industry, specifically to address poverty in the northern part of Belize.”

 

A 2013 Child Activity Survey by the Statistical Institute of Belize, released back in 2015, revealed that seven in every ten children, who are working, do not go to school and most have only a primary school education; that the larger the household is, the more likely the children will be working. While not every child who is employed is involved in child labor, sixty-eight percent of working children are doing child labor.

 

Jacqueline Small

Jacqueline Small, Demographer, Statistical Institute of Belize [File: May 8th, 2015]

“The children employment rate has gone down since 2001, by about a half. While four point seven percent of children are employed, when in 2001, about nine percent of children were employed and the same is true for children in child labour as well. Nothing is wrong with children being employed if they are employed under the right conditions, they are not exposed to harm and their development is not being adversely affected because children need to do some work in order to learn responsibility. I think that parents on a whole if they knew that they were exposing their children to danger, they wouldn’t.”

 

Diana Shaw

“Employment should not interfere with school attendance; that’s one of the key guidance notes. So if a child is required to work during a time that they should be in school; that is child labor. Employment should not be hazardous to child that it will cause injury to their physical development. It should not be compromising their morals or their spiritual development; that’s also important guidance. So activities that will require children to be involved in things that adults are engaged in, that will expose them to sexual activities, those kinds of things are absolutely prohibited; that’s some of the worse forms of child labor.”

 

Today, public and private sector stakeholders took part in the first of many consultations at the ITVET Compound in Belize City where an established list of hazardous work and light work will help guide employment practices for organizations as it relates to minors. But certain realities in Belize are that traditionally, a child working in the household is a rite of passage.

 

Diana Shaw

“One of the big factors that influence child labor is poverty; parents are in difficult economic situations and it may be a temporary crisis—a parent has lost a job or a parent has become suddenly very ill. And there are no other adults in the home to provide for the child. We have family-owned operations and part of what parents want to do is to pass on skills that they know about how to manage the farm and how to take care of the crops to their children. So they want to introduce those skills to children because it is a part of the sustainability. And it is good for them to do that, but you have to be careful.”

 

Article nineteen of the C.R.C. recognizes “the right of children to be protected from injury, abuse, negligent, maltreatment or exploitation.” It is further supported by article thirty-two which lobbies for the protection of children from economic exploitation; “performing work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with education or harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” The National Committee for Family and Children in Belize ensures that the rights of children under the amended legislation are maintained.

 

Margaret Nicholson

Margaret Nicholson, Executive Director, NCFC

“I am here today with the CDF to look at child labor, to look at what is a hazardous list and to particularly look at the amendment of the legislation, particularly that of the  Child Labor Act. As you know we recently launched the Children’s Agenda and the agenda is for children and adolescents and our vision is that by 2030, Belize should be the best place in the world for children to live.”

 

According to the International Labor Organization Convention 138, the national policy is to ensure the abolition of child labour and to progressively raise the minimum age of work to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental development of young persons. Shaw says that there is a move by government to increase the minimum age to work to sixteen in an effort to reduce child labor. Duane Moody for News Five.

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