Myanmar labour authorities are planning to launch a National Action Plan on Child Labour in November with the ultimate goal of eliminating the country’s chronic child labour problem, according to a seminar held at Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone in Yangon Region in early July.
The seminar was jointly organised by the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, the Factories and General Labour Laws Inspection Department and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to talk on the protection of children from the worst forms of child labour and the elimination of child labour.
Myanmar has been drafting a National Action Plan on Child Labour as a national-level measure to tackle the rampant spread of child labourers across the country, according to Win Shein, Director-General of the Factories and General Labour Laws Inspection Department. The 15-years scheme that spans from 2018 to 2033 is a concerted effort of officials representing different government agencies such as the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Home Affairs and city development committees.
“Awareness and attitude of employers and parents to the child labour issue is also important to the success of its eradication. It will not be achievable only by the action of the government”, said Win Shein.
The drafting process of the long-term action plan is already completed, and labour officials aim to announce it in November. Regions and States in lower Myanmar will be selected initially to reduce the number of child labourers.
Child labour mainly occurs in agriculture, forestry, fisheries and manufacturing in Myanmar. The country is notorious for its chronic child labour issues, and the plight of child labourers in Myanmar often attract attention from international rights groups and humanitarian organisations. The country’s child labourers are best noticeable in tea shops at every corner of the country. There are more than one million child labourers in Myanmar and nearly half out of it is engaged in hazardous labour, according to a workforce survey conducted in 2015.
According to the ILO, the term ‘child labour’ refers to the employment of children in works that deprive children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and is mentally, physically or morally dangerous and harmful to them as well as interfere with their ability to attend regular school.
Not all work carried out by children should be classified as ‘child labour’ that is to be targeted for elimination by communities. The engagement of children and adolescents in works that does not affect their health and personal development or keep them from attending school is generally regarded as positive. This includes such activities as helping their parents with housework, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during holidays.
Whether or not particular forms of “work” can be called “child labour” depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is done and the objectives pursued by individual countries. The answer varies from country to country, as well as among sectors within countries.
Child Labour Statistics
There are 168 million children between 5 and 17 years engaged in child labour worldwide, said an ILO report published in 2012. More than 100 million children around the world are working in hazardous conditions in agriculture, mining, domestic labour and other sectors, according to international rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW). Asia-Pacific region still has the largest number of children involved in child labour while sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the region with the highest incidence of child labour. Agriculture remains the sector where most child labourers can be found.
Myanmar and ILO Convention 182
Myanmar has committed itself to taking immediate action to prohibit and eliminate the worst forms of child labour by ratifying the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) agreed by the ILO member countries. On December 18, 2013, Myanmar became the 178th ILO member nation to ratify this instrument which calls for the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour including slavery, trafficking, the use of children in armed conflicts, the use of a child for prostitution, pornography, illicit activities such as drug trafficking and hazardous work. Labour that jeopardises the physical, mental or moral well-being of a child, either because of its nature or because of the conditions in which it is performed, is termed “hazardous work”.
Shortly after Myanmar ratified the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, the ILO started to implement a child labour eradication project in Myanmar with the purpose to contribute to reducing child labour in the country through a multi-stakeholder response informed by comprehensive and updated knowledge base.
Myanmar Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (My-PEC) project, which runs from 2014- 2017, eyes the expansion of knowledge base on child labour, the enhancement of awareness and knowledge about child labour, the improvement of legal and institutional environment contributing to the elimination of child labour and the betterment of capacity of stakeholders to coordinate, network and advocate for the elimination of child labour in Myanmar.