Reflection on CRC Article 32

Every child has the right to be protected from work that is harmful to their health or development. Children who do work have the right to be safe and paid fairly.

Laksmi Pamuntjak
Selling vegetables
01 November 2019

We hear the stories from time to time. Children labouring in tobacco farms, in palm oil plantations. Children labouring as domestic workers, at home and overseas. These stories don’t always register in our minds because we are accustomed to thinking of children as young human beings who bring joy to our lives and deserve our love and protection. In our minds, children belong in school and safe homes, not in hazardous or abusive work environments. We are not used to associating ‘child’ and ‘labour’; the two words should not appear side by side. Yet they often do—because child labour is a reality.

What we don’t hear much about is what really happens in these workplaces. Children as young as eight, employed not directly by companies but brought in to help in dangerous work conditions by their own parents so they can meet targets and earn bonuses. Children working in tobacco companies throwing up and feeling nauseous because of their constant exposure to nicotine, pesticide and intense heat. Children working in palm oil plantations almost breaking their backs from carrying heavy loads repetitively over rough terrains. Children between twelve and fifteen, mostly girls, hired as domestic workers because they are cheaper than adults—children who work eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, with no day off. Children who are often physically, sexually and mentally abused by their employers.

We don’t hear much either about what goes on beyond efforts to tighten labour laws and hold companies accountable for irresponsible or unlawful labour practices. Yet all the other tough questions remain: how to dissuade young girls below eighteen from becoming domestic help if they believe it’s a stepping stone to becoming better-paid migrant domestic workers? How to offer desperately poor families other options to prevent them from resorting to their children for help? How to tackle poverty and high education costs that push children out of school and into the informal sector with no demand for specialized skills? How to stop the vicious cycle that keep children where they began—in low-skill and low pay jobs—with little if any chance of bettering the lives of their own children? 

We do know one thing, though: some myths require debunking, and debunking requires education. It is never too much, or too late.

Though these reflections were inspired by the accompanying photographs, the texts do not describe the life or story of any person depicted within them.


Convention on the rights of the child

In 1989, governments across the world promised all children the same rights by adopting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The Convention says what countries must do so that all children grow as healthy as possible, can learn at school, are protected, have their views listened to, and are treated fairly.

As part of Indonesia’s celebrations in November 2019, to mark the 30th anniversary of the CRC, UNICEF asked Indonesian author Laksmi Pamuntjak to help us envision some of these CRC articles. Inspired by photos and images from our database, and working with our programme specialists, Laksmi created 15 fictional texts on some of the most relevant articles for the Indonesian context.

Though these reflections were inspired by the accompanying photographs, the texts do not describe the life or story of any person depicted within them.