The spectre of child labour



There are many international legal instruments that outlaw child labour. However, there are more than 250 million children in the world who are involved in child labour because of various reasons including poverty in families that force children to work to help their families and weak labour laws that do not punish sectors benefiting from child labour among other reasons. The author discusses about other reasons, consequences of child labour and offers a number of recommendations to end that cruel practice.

Violations of human rights and freedoms, as Derechos Human Rights (2008) has noted, take many forms, among which include genocide, slavery, torture, mass disappearances of individuals, denial of the freedom of speech, and repudiation of freedom of the press. With respect to violations relating to “children’s rights and freedoms,” the following assessment paraphrased from an IRIN (2007) online publication and a British Broadcasting Corporation (2004) news report regarding violations of such rights and freedoms in selected African countries provides a good example:

“Women and girls are raped and sexually abused by perpetrators from different parties to conflicts in the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, the Sudan, and Uganda; and children are recruited as combatants and sex slaves in Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and the Sudan.”

This article is designed to provide a survey of the following themes relating to violations of the rights and freedoms of children worldwide: (a) the basic rights of children; (b) the issue of child labour; (c) the nature of child labour; (d) the causes of child labour; (e) the negative and beneficial effects of child labour; and (f) solutions to the spectre of child labour.

The basic rights of children

By and large, the rights and freedoms of individuals enshrined in national constitutions, regional charters and the United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights also apply to children. However, children have additional rights provided for by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which, according to UN Children’s Fund (2007), was adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989.

The Convention is a universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations, which prescribe minimum children’s entitlements and freedoms that need to be respected by governments worldwide, and which are founded on respect for the dignity and worth of each individual child regardless of race, colour, gender, language, religion, opinions, origins, wealth, birth status, or ability (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2009).

It prescribes the basic human rights that children everywhere should have; that is: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life (UN Children’s Fund, 2007)[[i]].

By assenting to the provisions of the Convention, UN member-countries recognised the need for a set of special rights for children because members of society who are less than 18 years of age often need special care and protection (UN Children’s Fund, 2007).

The issue of child labour

Countries which are signatories to the UNCRC have recognised, in Article 32(1), “the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development” (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2009).

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