Child Labour in Guyana

May 10, 2011

  By Francis Bailey of Youth Media Guyana

In this article my mind turns to the streets of Guyana and what I intend to do is provide you with food for thought concerning our culture, identity, environment and future as Guyanese. The good, the bad and the ugly all form a picture. Today we look at child labourers, seemingly ubiquitous around the capital. These are some of the most vulnerable amongst us, enduring daily hardship to make a living yet theirs is a plight of which many take little notice. There are not many of us who have been to a market, the sea walls, a car wash or road side stall and not seen evidence children engaged in commercial activities.

To put it in perspective, child labour is defined by the International Labour Organization as being a “violation of fundamental human rights and has been shown to hinder children’s development, potentially leading to lifelong physical or psychological damage.” The Child Labour Convention (1999) defines a “child” as a person under18 years of age.

The causes of child labour are numerous and include poverty, community culture, absentee (non-supportive) fathers and uneducated parents but by and large working children come primarily from poor families in need of the extra income. The basic costs and extra financial pressure placed on the household with regards to attending school every day are also cited as the reasons many children go to work. A side effect of this is the temptation it provides to children who are going to school when they see their peers spending their own cash and appearing to be carefree.

Work by minors in the domestic sphere is considered one of the worst forms of child labour, as several violations of their rights are combined, such as separation from the family environment, obstacles to education, lack of contracts and prevalence of excessively long workdays according to the Child Rights Information Network.

Generally, many child labourers are exposed to dangerous work in the form of heavy workloads, inappropriate use of agrochemicals and cutting tools, as well as other physical hazards with constant exposure to physical and sexual abuse especially in the case of girls. Not many child labourers in Guyana earn above $1,000 (US$5.00) per day and from this many help support their families. The combination of the lack of a sound education and a constant shortage of resources compels many children to live a life working low paying jobs, frustrated by a lack of social mobility. To paraphrase one of the most recent studies on child labour in Guyana ‘these have serious implications for the post-millennium Guyanese society in areas ranging from violence, crime, employment and exploitation.’ Even though some organizations such as The International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), World Bank financed SIMAP and Food for the Poor have made a massive impact in helping the poor, a root cause of child labour, there is still more we can all do.

Cultural attitudes towards children and work expectations are also obstacles we face as a society. Many people still do not see child labour as undesirable but as a way of socializing young children in society and as such don’t speak up about it. I hope we undergo a change in perspective to the point where we truly understand a childhood cannot be replaced, a sound education is priceless (most child labourers surveyed expressed a wish to go back to school) and that child labour itself is an expression of poverty which itself needs to be tackled as a root cause.

Increased family incomes, education that helps children learn even vocational skills, improved social services and family planning are all some solutions to child labour. While it is important we see child labour as a Global problem (246 million aged 5 – 17 as of 2000), it is also very important that we realize every country and every citizen has a personal responsibility to help bring about its eradication. Lend your voice to the cause.