Jamaica Takes Steps to End Child Labour

Three Jamaican girls smiling

12/09/2011 - Working with civil society members, the government of Jamaica is taking steps to eliminate child labour by strengthening education.

Jamaica's Minister of Labour and Social Security, the Hon. Pearnel Charles, has announced a new $25 million plan to combat child labour.  The Tackling Child Labour through Education (TACKLE) initiative will help provide direction for drawing up policies and putting in place the appropriate laws to curb the country's child labour problem.

Speaking about the plan in his address to the TACKLE Jamaica Stakeholders' Consultation last week, Mr. Charles noted that there are 16,000 children in Jamaica who are involved in some form of child labour or labour-related abuse. The overwhelming majority of these children are boys. As such, there is a need for special care for these exploited young boys.

Of these 16,000, "7,000 [children] are engaged in prostitution, pornography and slave labour, predominantly males,” said the Minister. However, it is agriculture that accounts for 60 per cent of child labour. Other participating sectors include manufacturing and wholesale business.

Too often, young people engaged in the workforce are paid very little or are not paid at all, making child labour the virtual equivalent of slavery in its modern form. The call for the elimination of the worst form of child labour has been made in the 1989 United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) as well as the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Convention 182 created a decade later.

Jamaica will work to eliminate this human rights violation in harmony with the spirit and provisions of the CRC. In order to accomplish this, education is vital. As such, the Jamaican Minister of Education has also pledged his support for the TACKLE initiative.

Child labour often interferes with a child's ability to attend classes on a regular basis. This is particularly detrimental to children's futures, for "the longer a child remains in school, the better he or she will be able to find gainful employment in later life,” as Mr. Charles noted.

As part of its efforts in this regard, the Minister has called on civil society actors of all kind to work with the government to end this violation of children' rights. A curriculum that includes child labour education is being developed for all schools. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials and parents, who may not always know better, are being sensitized to the issue. It is important that all segments of society know that it is vital for children to exercise their right to a basic education, to attend school and enjoy their childhoods as they should.

TACKLE is an ongoing 4-year initiative between 11 governments from across Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, as well as the ILO's International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC). IPEC has a mission to bring about the progressive elimination of child labour, placing priority on the worst forms defined in Convention 182. Among these worst forms are slavery, bonded labour, human trafficking, employment in the drug trade, prostitution and other work deemed hazardous to the health and/or morals of the child.

TACKLE is designed to build capacity among national and local authorities in the participating regions  to enforce anti-child labour policies. The European Union (EU) is supporting the initiative with €14.75 million (about CAD$20,098,350).

Under Jamaica's 2004 Child Care and Protection Act, it is illegal to hire or put to work a child under the age of 13. However, children over the age of 13 but under the age of 15 can perform light, non-hazardous work, for a limited number of hours.