Editorial

Protecting Our Children

A recent report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) noted that the pandemic is pushing Latin America and the Caribbean more off track in ending child labour.

The report also stated that the pandemic is derailing efforts made by Latin America and the Caribbean in eradicating child labour by 2025. Further, prolonged school closures and a spike in poverty amongst the most vulnerable families are pushing Latin America and Caribbean children into child labour.

The 2021 report estimates that 8.2 million children between the ages of 5-17 years of age are engaged in child labour in Latin America and the Caribbean and that most of those children are male adolescent, with 33% being girls.

Also, that child labour is present in both rural and urban areas with about 48.7% being in the agriculture sector with just under 50% of those engaged in child labour also engaged in family work.

The report says that child labour is a sad reality for too many children in this region.

While the report was not specific to what pertains in Saint Lucia at this time, a call has been made to make this year, the year of the child.

UNICEF and the ILO have urged governments and international financial institutions to invest in programmes that get children back into schools.

“We are losing ground in the fight against child labour, and the last year has not made that fight any easier,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in a statement that underscored the need for countries to be vigilant against child labour within their borders.

Saint Lucia is not immune from having some of its children engage in what has been deemed child labour, according to past reports from the ILO and UNICEF.

We reiterate that while we do not know how the situation stands presently, we do know that Saint Lucia’s recent accession to and participation in the ‘Regional Initiative Latin America and the Caribbean Free of Child Labour’, is a significant and meaningful step that reflects its will and intent to address child labour.

We are aware that the Government of Saint Lucia has committed to pursuing a strategy that values ending child labour not just only here but, in the region, as well. But despite that, we are calling on the people and government to remain cognizant of the need to pay attention to the several areas of weakness and potential risks that the ‘Regional Initiative Latin America/Caribbean Free of Child Labour’ report has highlighted.

There is still work to be done in Saint Lucia to completely eradicate child labour. Work that will require the concerted efforts and contributions not just of the Government, but also of civil society stakeholders, workers’ and employers’ organizations, and individual citizens throughout the country.

We do not have to wait for 2025 – the year given by the ILO and UNICEF to completely eliminate all forms of child labour. We can do our own elimination right now in the year 2021.

We note what is said in Division 9 of the 2006 Labour Code regarding the Employment of Children and Young Persons by prohibiting any form of child labour and defining a child as a person aged 15 and under.

We are also aware that in 2019, Saint Lucia made a moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour in that the government launched a Trafficking in Persons hotline and the Ministry of Home Affairs, National Security, and Justice implemented a case management system for victims of human trafficking. In addition, the government assumed full financial responsibility for an International Organization for Migration program, which aims to counter human trafficking.

Saint Lucia has ratified most key international conventions concerning child labour. All we want right now is for Saint Lucia to enact laws that will sufficiently protect its children from hazardous work and illicit activities.

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