Myanmar launches anti-child labour campaign
THOUGH more than 600,000 children are still engaged in work that harms their health, safety and well-being, Myanmar is trying to implement a national-level project to eradicate child labour, Nyunt Win, director-general of the factories and general labour laws inspection department, said.
“Myanmar is undertaking several reforms in multisectoral development and the labour, immigration and population ministry is committed to the eradication of child labour,” he said.
According to the official, the ministry launched a month-long public awareness campaign across the country on June 9 with support from development partners, including the International Labour Organisation, the EU delegation, Unicef and the embassies of Switzerland and Australia.
The campaign aims to start a “no child labour” dialogue at government and community levels. Photo exhibitions detailing the ordeals child labourers undergo are currently on show at Dala Ferry (until June 25), Junction City Mall (until yesterday), and the Yangon Central Railway Station (until June 25).
The newly-established committee on eradication of child labour in Myanmar is overseeing the national action plan, which aims to address the problem in the nation as well as to place a priority on the ratification of the ILO Convention 138 on the minimum age for labour.
ILO lauded Myanmar’s efforts to reduce child labour, with ILO liaison officer Rory Mungoven saying that strategies must be developed to strengthen enforcement and to reach areas beyond the normal span of labour inspection services as well as “hidden” parts of the economy where some of the worst abuse occurs.
“Poverty is one of the root causes of child labour, but there is still much that can be done to prevent it,” Mungoven said. “Labour market policies that promote decent work for adults and youth of legal working age, improve rural livelihoods and incomes, and promote the transition from informal to formal economy, are key to tackling child labour.”
He said access to social security could help prevent child labour by mitigating the vulnerabilities that lead families to resort to child labour. Ensuring that children have access to education at least until they reach employment age reamins a key tool in tackling child labour.
“We must turn off the tap and stop children from entering labour. In agriculture, children usually start working at the age of six, seven or eight,” he said.
“A future that provides decent and sustainable incomes for all cannot be achieved without the elimination of child labour. While great progress has been made in industry since 1919, the eradication of child labour requires renewed and concentrated focus on the rural economy.”
He said education will equip children with the knowledge and skills they need for a fulfilling life in a future world of work that will be very different.
Min Gaung Oo, from the Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said child labour is driven by many factors, namely family and community poverty, a poor education system and the perception that children are cheap labour.
“It seems like a never-ending circle, but we have to stop it now,” he said.
“We need to solve the root causes. Employers alone cannot solve this. It becomes everybody’s business. This might need to involve all related stakeholders, including international partners with support and technical advice.”
He said both formal and informal sectors must stop employing children, and all businesses should obey the law and ensure their policies and procedures prevent the recruitment of children.
“Businesses should also focus on economic reform to ensure the well-being of workers so they have a better socio-economic status by promoting market access and increasing productivity by offering a better business environment,” he said.
Aung Kyaw Myint of the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar, said that though child labour exists in all sectors, there is a particularly high prevalence in agriculture.
“Child labour in agriculture is often driven by factors such as conflict, poverty, limited or no access to education, or social protection and climate-related disasters,” he said.
“It can endanger the health and education of our youth and create barriers to food security, social progress and sustainable agricultural development.”
He said children working in farms were also often exposed to hazards and risks that have long-lasting effects on their development, health and growth. Pesticides, poor sanitation, hot temperatures, physically demanding or repetitive work and long hours can have negative repercussions that follow them into adulthood.
“When children are made to leave their schoolbooks behind to work in our fields and plantations, we all suffer an immeasurable loss,” he said.
He said all stakeholders must work together to stop the use of child labour.
“This must stop. Flexible education and vocational programmes need to be made available. Families at the grassroots level should benefit from reforms taking place and have access to preventive programmes,” he said.