Children involved in labour have the same rights as those not involved in labour. They also have equal right to education to develop their full potential and enjoy their childhood
It is essential to understand the concept of child labour, which appears to be confusing for many people.
Not all the work performed by children is considered as child labour.
International Labour Office (ILO) defines child labour as work by children (under 18) which is exploitative, hazardous or otherwise inappropriate for their age, detrimental to their schooling, or their social, physical, mental, spiritual or moral development.
Therefore, child labour is determined by the age of child, nature and duration of work, working conditions, provisions in the national legislation and international standards.
Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 2000 prohibits children who have not completed 14 years of age from being involved in any form of child labour; however it is not practiced to its fullest.
As a result, children in Nepal are still found involved in various sectors of labour such as domestic work, teashops/restaurants, brick kilns, porters, carpet factory, rag-picking, bonded labour, especially in agriculture, stone quarries and mines.
Concurrently evidences are found regarding children’s involvement in emerging sectors including embroidery, Yarsagumba plucking as well as metal crafting which has further made the situation of child labour worse in Nepal.
According to National Labour Force Survey of 2008, among 7.7 million children of age 5–17 years, 40.4% (3.14 million) are economically active out of which 1.6 million children are engaged in labour; including 0.62 million children involved in hazardous forms (0.126 million in worst forms of child labour).
The Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) reported that children involved in labour have been reduced by 1 million over 10 years. This is surely a positive outcome of the hard efforts of the Government of Nepal as well as civil society organizations of the past several decades.
The Government of Nepal had prepared ‘National Master Plan on Child Labour (2004-2014)’ with the objective of eliminating worst forms of child labour by 2009 and all forms of child labour by 2014.
However, after the review of the plan, the Master Plan was further updated as ‘National Master Plan on Child Labour (2011-2020)’ with the target of eliminating worst forms of child labour by 2016 and all forms by 2020.
The National Child Labour Report, 2012 shows that children from poverty-affected areas and households, marginalized and deprived sections from access to state facilities are highly vulnerable because of social, cultural and geographical factors.
The same report recorded that about 12 per cent of children in employment are from migrant families.
Similarly, the report stated that children involved in labour are mostly employed in the informal sector where policies and legislation are yet far beyond reach. Henceforth, children are forced to work even in slavery-like conditions.
The Global Slavery Index 2016 launched by Walk Free estimated that 45.8 million people are in modern slavery conditions globally, with 234,600 (0.823%) in Nepal.
This report ranked Nepal on 31st position of having the highest number of people in modern slavery globally, 13th in proportion to total population and 7th in the Asia Pacific region.
The mega earthquake of 2015 has increased the vulnerability of children. CWISH, a child rights organization, reports Dhading, Kavre, Gorkha, Nuwakot, Ramechhap and Sindhupalchowk as major supply districts of child labour which happen to be the most affected districts of the earthquake.
The earthquake has affected the livelihoods and living circumstances of 2.8 million people, putting 1.1 million children at risk of labour as families struggle to care for them.
Post-earthquake, Child Protection Sub Cluster reported incidence of child trafficking and children coming to urban areas for labour. CWISH analysed the prevalence of child labour pre-earthquake and estimated additional 154,000 children at risk of coming into labour.
As such, it is urgent to address these issues on time by learning from the experiences of Haiti and Pakistan.
Haiti couldn’t managethe situation promptly after the 2010 earthquake and hence child labour had increased by 8.2% which was already 29% in 2005 among children aged 5-14 years.
Similarly in Pakistan, 14.4% children were reported to be involved in labour in 2002, which increased by 1.5% within 2 years after the earthquake of 2005.
However, Pakistan eventually managed to decrease the number of child labour significantly by 2.9% with the development and implementation of holistic intervention plans effectively to address child labour.
The problems children were facing included rude behaviour from employers, deprivation of education, inadequate time to study, physical and humiliating punishment, suppressed freedom, inadequate and stale food, sometimes no time to eat food, low and no wages, deprivation of learning their own culture, sexual abuse, discrimination, excessive working hours, no leave and no recreation.
Children involved in labour have the same rights as those not involved in labour. They also have equal right to education to develop their full potential and enjoy their childhood.
Henceforth, it is high time for the country to think about producing skilled and competent human resources by providing access to opportunity to develop oneself ultimately contributing to national as well as global development.
This is possible by creating a child friendly environment where children can enjoy rights to the fullest and access holistic development.
A version of this article appears in print on July 28, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.