Cudjoe-Lewis: Educate adults about child labour

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe-Lewis – File photo

SPORT and Community Development Minister Shamfa Cudjoe-Lewis says more needs to be done to educate adults about what child labour is and how to prevent it.

Cudjoe-Lewis spoke at a public inquiry into child labour held by members of the Parliament’s Human Rights, Equality and Diversity Committee at the Red House on April 5.

The commitee questioned representatives from the police, Children’s Authority, Labour Ministry and the Gender and Children’s Affairs Division of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

After listening to comments by authority representatives about its outreach initiatives to educate children about their rights under the law and child labour, Cudjoe-Lewis asked whether this focus needed to be widened.

She suggested that the authority direct some of its attention towards parents and grandparents in their 50s and 60s, who may not have a full understanding of child labour.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), child labour is work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and interferes with their schooling.

This happens by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school, urging them to leave school prematurely or requiring them to try to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.

Cudjoe-Lewis recalled that many parents do not see things such as having their children do chores as child labour, but as lessons for them in certain life skills.

“This requires a whole change in thinking and a whole shift in culture.”

Cudjoe-Lewis did not believe it was necessary for parents who are business owners to take their children out of school to have them learn the family business.

“We have to show the negative effect of pulling children out of school.”

In response to her questions about groups that have been the focus of child-labour education initiatives, Children’s Authority legal services manager Renee Joseph said schools and other community groups often invite the authority to speak to their members on the issue.

Cudjoe-Lewis was not satisfied this was the right approach to raising public awareness about child labour.

“You can’t just wait to be invited by a group. You have to be very deliberate about it. The Children’s Authority must be deliberate and proactive.”

She suggested the authority consider issues such as community caravans as an option to spread information about child labour to a wider audience.

Opposition Senator Jearlean John agreed with Cudjoe-Lewis about social norms in some communities which see nothing wrong with young children working.

She recalled her childhood days in Charlotteville, where she and her relatives would often sell fish and bananas.

From then to now, John said, “Culturally,we have not moved.”

Tabaquite MP Anita Haynes-Alleyne linked Cudjoe-Lewis’s point about educating people about child labour to school dropouts.

She said there is information in the public domain that in the period 2020-2022, the Education Ministry reported there were 151 dropouts in primary school and 2,663 dropouts from secondary school.

Haynes-Alleyne added that that situation was attributed in large measure to the socio-economic impacts of the covid19 pandemic.

She asked what was being done to find those children, who may now be working, and educate them about child labour.

Labour Minister chief labour inspector specialist Farouk Mohammed said when the Labour Inspectorate receives information about suspected child-labour cases, it collaborates with the Education Ministry on those matters.

OPM Gender and Child Affairs Division monitoring and evaluation co-ordinator Makandal Caesar said sufficient dialogue is needed amongst stakeholders to understand what child labour is,

As an example, Caesar said some people believe having a child do 21 hours of work is child labour, whereas a child only working for three hours is not.

He added that the type of work in many cases is not defined, and this makes it difficult to assess whether or not children are being encouraged to work unfairly.

Caesar said parents asking their children to fold laundry for two hours is often regarded as encouraging personal responsibility.

He also said while the ILO defines employment, that definition does not cover all areas of work or occupations where child labour could happen.

That definition is “a person aged 15 or over who has done at least one hour’s paid work in a given week, or who is absent from work for certain reasons (annual leave, sickness, maternity, etc) and for a certain period of time.”

In response to questions from Haynes-Alleyne, Joseph said the authority sends teams to visit rural communities and educate people about child labour. She identified Paramin and Toco as two such communities.

Joseph said this practice is often adopted for communities where people have limited access to the internet and the social media platforms where the authority promotes information on child labour.