Child labour policy and National Plan of Action

The Government of Guyana has taken a proactive role to eliminating child labour completely

By Pragmatis
10 February 2020

It is a popular saying that children are our future, but what does this future look like when many of our children are entering the labour market far too soon? A country that is “free from child labour in all forms” is the vision of Guyana’s Department of Labour. The Government of Guyana has taken a proactive role to eliminating child labour completely; first by becoming a signatory to the Latin America and the Caribbean Free Child Labour Regional Initiative, and second by developing a policy surrounding child labour with the help of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF)that was approved by the cabinet in December of 2018. Guyana has also developed a national plan of action that will soon be implemented along with the policy, both of which are critical in shaping our efforts to reduce child labour across Guyana.

As a country, Guyana recognizes the value and importance of a child being a child, but because so many families still live below the poverty line, many children are being forced to take on the burden of helping to sustain their homes. For this reason, many children drop out of school at an early age and seek whatever employment they can get to earn money. Some children remain in school and seek temporary employment on the side, trying not to lose out on their education. The more serious the financial situation in the home, the more likely these children are to become engaged in the worst forms of child labour.

Due to its growing success over the years, the mining sector has facilitated some of the worst forms of child labour in Guyana. Young boys are sent into the mining pits where they carry out hours of labour intensive work and young girls are led into human trafficking and prostitution. Child labour affects different areas in a child's life, such as their education and health. Therefore, the Child Labour Policy was developed using a multi-sectoral approach with stakeholders from various platoons within the Government and UNICEF signing on to be part of the solution. A recent interview with Karen Corbin, Assistant Chief Labour Officer at the Department of Labour revealed that Guyana is the first country in the Caribbean to have both a policy surrounding child labour and a national plan of action aimed at eradicating child labour.

With implementation of the policy, Guyana’s vision of being free from child labour ills in all forms is a step closer to fulfillment.

Child Labour, Child Rights, Right to an Education, National Policy

With implementation of the policy, Guyana’s vision of being free from child labour ills in all forms is a step closer to fulfillment. In order to achieve this, the Department of Labour has assigned officers to each of the 10 Administrative Regions in Guyana. These officers will make random visits each month to these Regions to inspect businesses and other working establishments to ensure they are not participating in any form of child labour. The officers not only monitor, inspect and investigate breeches in the labour regulations, but also look for evidence of child labour.

The Child Labour Policy is a rights-based approach that views children's rights as human rights. Also, its main focus is on decentralization. As such, the Department of Labour uses all of their resources to guarantee our children are being given their rights as citizens of Guyana. Corbin highlights that, "to comprehensively tackle child labour, state and non-state actors at both regional and community levels must be empowered to participate." This means that the public must be informed on the contents of the policy and other information surrounding child labour.

Special attention is being given to the hinterland regions where most of the worst forms of child labour occur. Officers from the Department of Labour make special visits to indigenous communities, with cooperation from the different Toshaos, to educate their members on the harmful effects of child labour, but more so to point out that it is illegal in this country. Apart from this, the officers go into the schools, health centres and other organizations around the country putting up fliers and holding programmes to ensure the public is well educated about child labour.

The money he made would be used to take him to school for the rest of the week.

The National Plan of Action is geared at eliminating child labour in Guyana completely by the year 2025. An annual report will be generated to highlight the progress made within that period. Part of the plan is also to prioritize and review the legislative agenda by 2020, looking for gaps within the agenda’s findings. Areas such as the Education Act, Employment Young Persons and Children Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act, and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act, will be under review. All will be brought in alignment to deal comprehensively with issues relating to child labour.

Corbin said that the target of the National Plan of Action is, "full legal protection for all children under the age of 18 from engaging in hazardous work." To help achieve this goal, one of the first steps is to create a unit within the Department of Labour that deals specifically with child labour. Following this, a list will also be compiled with all work that is considered hazardous to children below the age of 18. This offers protection to children between the ages of 16-18, who can be legally employed, by helping them realize that there are some forms of work, such as working in mines, construction and certain factories, that can be dangerous to them at that age.

Since the implementation of our Child Labour Policy an immense amount of progress has been made, all of which would not be possible without the technical and financial support of UNICEF. This organization played an instrumental role not only in the development of the policy, but also in the development and drafting of the national plan. In addition, there are plans to have permanent officers in Regions 1, 8 and 9 who can offer direct support and timely responses in instances of child labour. Currently, the officers responsible for those Regions are based in Georgetown and only able to make monthly visits to these areas.
With all the work being done so far, there are many success stories of children who were rescued from child labour situations around the country. One example is the case of a young boy from Charity on the Essequibo Coast (Region 2) who would stay home from school every Monday to go and clean the stalls of different vendors at the market. The money he made would be used to take him to school for the rest of the week. Labour officers intervened and notified the parents of the child. They were given the assistance they needed from other sectors of the government. This helped sustain the family and ensured that the boy was attending school every day. Subsequent visits to the Charity market proved that the boy had indeed stopped working and was back in school every day getting a full education.

The goal is to make sure every child is afforded the same opportunities and is not deprived from having a full childhood. Many strides have been made towards achieving the goal of alleviating child labour completely by 2025. With continued help from UNICEF and other stakeholders that have joined in collaboration with the Department of Labour, the future of every Guyanese child looks rewarding. These agencies continue to work diligently towards the day when every child will have full legal and social protection against all forms of child labour.