Child labour exists in the formal and non-formal sectors
--Says official of Ministry of Labour

Guyana Chronicle
November 9, 2002

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Chief Labour Officer M. Akeel responds to article titled, ‘Child labour widespread in Guyana’ by Linda Hutchinson-Jafar in the ‘Guyana Chronicle’ of Monday, October 28, 2002.

Ms. Jafar quotes Professor Danns as saying that “it is the hidden nature of child labour in Guyana that may have led national decision makers to erroneously conclude that child labour does not exist in the formal sector, it is not widespread and that its worst forms are manifest in countries in Africa and Asia and not in their society.”

Ms. Jafar went on to quote Professor Danns as saying that the worst forms of child labour exist among street children who are constrained to work for their own survival and that such forms of child labour exist both in the formal and informal sectors largely as underground economic activities. Prof. Danns is quoted also as saying that three out of ten or about 100,000 children below 18 years are involved in some form of child labour. ILO deems a child to be someone below 15 years of age.

I am not aware of any claim that child labour does not exist in Guyana. We at the Ministry of Labour have said that child labour exists both in the formal and informal sectors, such as at a few sawmills and at family-run firms and farms, but that it is not widespread. Indeed, the Honourable Minister of Labour, Human Services and Social Security in an address to the 90th Session of the International Labour Conference held in Geneva in June this year stated:

“Mr. President, the fight to eliminate the worst forms of child labour as defined in Convention 182 must not be compromised. No effort or finance must be spared in the battle to eliminate this scourge. In Guyana, there has been no real evidence as to the extent of such practice, but in this global village, no border is impenetrable; as such its existence threatens the whole world.

This is not to say that child labour does not exist in Guyana. It is there in the family owned farms as well as in the informal economy. I anxiously await the outcome of the work of the committee that is presently meeting on the informal economy, as a large percentage of workers including children are engaged in this type of activity and efforts to bring them under the social safety nets are usually met with hostility. A small percentage is to be found in the formal economy also. A truancy campaign in Guyana and the increase in school inspection visits are two of the measures put in place to reduce the incidence of child labour in both the formal and informal sectors. Our vast and harsh terrain, some of which is only accessible by air, places a burden on our limited resources, properly to monitor what is happening in some places.

It is part of the culture of the Guyanese population, especially in rural communities, for children to assist in household chores before and after school on weekends and during holidays. No amount of international conventions will change this culture, even if this were advisable, since it is part of our social acculturation that is not inimical to children’s education or health.

In 1973, the International Labour Organisation adopted a Convention concerning the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment. This Convention, which was ratified by Guyana in 1998, requires that the minimum age for compulsory schooling and for admission to employment be 15 years. In 1999, the Government amended the Education Act, the Factories (Hours and Holidays) Act and the Employment of Young Persons and Children Act to comply with the requirements of the Convention.

In 1999, the ILO adopted a new Convention on child labour known as the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention. This Convention was ratified by Guyana in 2001. This Convention requires the government to implement programmes to eliminate the Worst Forms of child labour.

The worst forms of child labour are deemed by the Convention to be:

all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.

the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;

the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties; and

work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

Most of the above will constitute a criminal offence, so if anyone, including Professor Danns, has information that children are involved in these forms of labour he/she should report this to the authorities, so that those who employ children in these forms of work/labour may be punished.

I wonder who compared Guyana to Asia and Africa. Was it Professor Danns himself?

Professor Danns was commissioned to do a rapid assessment study on child labour in Guyana and he targeted eight communities namely Charity, Parika, Georgetown, St. Cuthbert’s Mission, Corriverton, Black Bush Polder, Bartica and Linden.

Professor Danns in presenting his report to the ILO Caribbean Sub-regional tripartite meeting in Trinidad and Tobago said that his research was based on the age range of 1-18 years. His report is thus flawed in that the ILO Convention No.138 define a child as someone below the age of 15 years. He admitted not taking our laws, which permit employment from 15 years, into account.

The Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security was not involved and our views etc. were not sought during the conduct of the survey except for some general remarks by the Hon. Minister. However, we were asked to review the draft report prior to the final report. At a meeting arranged by the Ministry involving both public and private sector agencies, the report was strongly criticized for the methodology used, the geographical areas surveyed and the age span targeted, among other things.

The final report has not yet been published.

Guyana is not in denial mode. We accept that there is some form of child labour i.e. involving persons under 15 years of age; but, surely, it is not three out of ten children as claimed by Professor Danns. Three out of ten flies in the face of Education statistics.

By targeting children between ages 15 to 18 many of whom may be legally employed and whose employment is permitted by the ILO Convention, Professor Dann’s survey was flawed before it started.

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