SK-L: INTL: Poverty the root cause of child labour (fwd)

Leslie Schentag (
Mon, 8 Mar 1999 10:18:32 -0800 (PST)

  Leslie Schentag
  Gremlin Research Consultants
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Date: Sat, 06 Mar 1999 09:14:00 +0100
From: Debra Guzman <>
Subject: SK-L: INTL: Poverty the root cause of child labour

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## date       : 03.03.99
February 1999


Since the major cause of child labour is poverty, says a new
study by the United Nations Children's Fund on the problem
in West and Central Africa, the key to winning the battle
against child labour is the economic development of the
people. By Someshwar Singh

 Geneva: The growing demand for child domestic workers is
 leading to increasing rural-urban and cross-border
 trafficking in children under the age of 15, warns a new
 study released here on 8 February by the United Nations
 Children's Fund (UNICEF).

 A comparative study of child domestic labour in 10 West and
 Central African countries has found that young children,
 who make up the bulk of the population, are exposed to the
 'worst forms' of working conditions and girls in particular
 are vulnerable to exploitation.

 One hundred and thirty-two million children in West and
 Central African countries are under 15 years of age,
 accounting for 48% of the population. According to ILO
 (International Labour Organisation) estimates, about 53
 million children are engaged in one economic activity or

 Globally, about 250 million children between the ages of 5
 and 14 are forced to work. Thirty-two per cent of these
 children are in Africa.

 Demand for skilled labour is low in all the countries
 within the region, as in all non-industrialised countries,
 whose mainstay is agriculture. Child labour is used to meet
 the high demand for unskilled and cheap labour.

 Over three-quarters of children working in African
 countries are considered as family help and therefore
 receive no wages. Such is the lot of 95% of working
 children in Mali, 80% in Senegal and 70% in Ghana.

 Children who do not attend school or drop out of school are
 naturally sucked into this burgeoning informal sector.
 These children's involvement in the informal sector
 activities is the very symbol of child labour in the

 Mobilised for their own survival, or quite often for that
 of their family, as street hawkers, workers on family farms
 or apprentices integrated into the productive world of
 micro-enterprises, African children are not considered by
 society as children in danger, or even children at work.

 Yet, over the years, the West and Central African region
 has seen a surge in such hazardous child labour activities
 as garbage collection (in Senegal, Mali and Cote d'Ivoire),
 stone-breaking (in Cameroon) or mine work (in Cote
 d'Ivoire). More hazardous to the health of these children
 are the conditions under which these activities are carried
 out rather than the activities per se.

 According to the UNICEF study, the tender age at which
 children start working, the physical and emotional
 isolation as well as sexual abuse meted out to them are the
 most serious and intolerable risks to which working
 children are exposed.

 'Combining all these risk factors, is child domestic

 Children serving as domestics have to perform a host of
 tasks. Over half of the children are also involved in some
 form of business or economic activity, with a working day
 being, on average, over 14 hours long, and no opportunities
 to rest.

 Many countries in West and Central Africa recognise the
 fact that child domestic workers, particularly girls in
 urban areas, are the most vulnerable category facing
 peculiar risks, and whose status, along with children
 working in agriculture, calls for priority action.

 The major cause of child labour is parental poverty.
 Economic considerations are strong determinants of child
 labour. These are forces which push and pull children to
 work. All the statistics concur that the greater majority
 of child domestic workers come from low socio-economic
 status households, characterised by parental illiteracy,
 and  in disadvantaged (rural) areas.

 Rural parents seeking a better future for their children
 are encouraged to place their children in an urban
 household, with the understanding that the children will
 provide domestic labour in return. The parents are willing
 to accept the risks that accompany this arrangement since
 it offers a possibility, no matter how small, of getting
 the children out of their present condition.

 The increasingly organised fashion in which 'agents' or
 intermediaries are now operating, the study warns, is
 giving a new dimension to these 'child markets'. The
 proportion of child domestic workers who are thus
 professionally 'placed' varies from one-third to 60% -
 depending on the country and the study.

 Curbing the traffic in child domestic workers currently
 depends to a large extent on strengthening legislation on
 the movement of minors. However, there are several
 institutional constraints caused by insufficient material
 resources, lack of awareness, and corruption.

 In the final analysis, the study says, the battle to change
 the child labour scenario will be long. It will also
 require many forces (mainly regulatory and educational) at
 the local, regional, national and international levels to
 work together. And, above all, whatever be the motive
 power, economic development will have to be the bottom line
 of any insurance for change. - Third World Network Features


The above article first appeared in SUNS (South-North
Development Monitor), Issue No. 4372.

When reproducing this feature, please credit Third World
Network Features and (if applicable) the cooperating
magazine or agency involved in the article, and give the
byline. Please send us cuttings.

Third World Network is also accessible on the World Wide
Web. Please visit our web site at


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