On Saturday, Trinidad and Tobago joined countries around the world to observe World Day Against Child Labour with the theme: ACT Now: End Child Labour. Across the globe inclusive of Latin America and the Caribbean, Child Labour poses a tremendous threat to the lives of children. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has stated that the number of children in Child Labour has increased to 160 million worldwide representing an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four (4) years. There is no gainsaying that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has played a significant role in exacerbating conditions that give rise to child labour in many countries especially low-income economies.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines child labour “as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that:
· is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and/or
· interferes with their schooling by: depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.”
According to the ILO Convention NO.182, the “worst forms of child labour involve children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities – often at a very early age.” These will include:
· all forms of slavery such as the sale and trafficking of children
· offering children for prostitution and pornography
· offering children for illicit activities such as trafficking drugs
· work by its inherent nature will result in harm to the health and wellbeing of children https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/child-labour/lang--en/index.htm
In addition to developing sporting skills, children who engage in sport regularly also accrue important physiological, psychological and social benefits such as discipline, respect and tolerance that can positively impact their careers and key relationships throughout their lifetime (Aguilar 2018). On the other hand, if children participating in any area of the sports industry that is detrimental to their overall health, well-being and or at the expense of their education, then there is a need for intervention to ascertain if Child Labour or any form of exploitation is taking place.
Can Child Labour take place in the Sport Industry? The issue of child labour in sport gained momentum in the 1990s when media coverage highlighted sporting goods manufacturers were using underage children in various countries at far less than the minimum wage to manufacture footballs, garments and other sporting paraphernalia.
According to Greenhouse (1997) “Close to 10,000 Pakistani children under the age of 14 work[ed] up to 10 hours a day stitching the leather balls, often for the equivalent of $1.20 a day.” He stated that the “Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimate[d] that children ma[de] 10 to 20 percent of all soccer balls produced in Pakistan, which [accounted for] three-fourths of the 30 million to 40 million hand-sewn soccer balls sold each year worldwide.” In an attempt to address the issue, a plan was developed consisting of major sporting manufacturers, ILO, child advocacy groups such as Save the Children and UNICEF to eliminate child labour in the sports industry. https://www.nytimes.com/1997/02/14/world/sporting-goods-concerns-agree-to-combat-sale-of-soccer-balls-made-by-children.html
Additionally, in 1997, a “Model Code of Conduct for global business practices that address working conditions in factories abroad was developed.” https://www.sportanddev.org/en/learn-more/economic-development/exploitation-and-child-protection-sport-0
Doherty (2012) reporting on a Sydney Morning Herald investigation into child labour stated that “despite significant reforms to India's massive but poorly regulated sports ball industry, children [were] still working, sometimes forced, in the painstaking and painful hand-stitching of footballs, netballs and soccer balls.” The children were employed unofficially, through subcontractors, and were paid for each ball stitched. According to Doherty most stitchers earned about one Australian dollar per day, the equivalent of 50-60 rupees.
Stitching involved children” sit[ting], hunched on low stools, for between five and eight hours a day, six or seven days a week. Stitchers often end up with chronic back injuries from the unnatural sitting position.” Additionally, “they regularly pierce their fingers with the sharp, heavy needles, or slice their hands on the wax-coated string.” Furthermore, “working inside and in the dark, as most child labourers [kept] from the authorities, strain[ed] child stitchers' eyes and le[d] to vision disorders.” When children were kept away from school to work it was a clear violation of the 2010 Rights to Education Act that made it compulsory for children under 14 to attend school. https://www.smh.com.au/national/poor-children-made-to-stitch-sports-balls-in-sweatshops-20120921-26c0z.html
While the sports industry inclusive of the sports goods manufacturing sector in Trinidad and Tobago is at a nascent stage, it is imperative that existing and potential manufacturers, along with parents, guardians, children, coaches, and sports administrators become knowledgeable of child labour inclusive of the role they can perform in preventing its occurrence.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the National Steering Committee for the Elimination and Prevention of Child under the purview of the Ministry of Labour was established in 2018 with a clear mandate of developing a National Policy and Plan of Action against Child Labour. The Ministry of Labour in conjunction with a wide cross-section of other ministries, state agencies and non-governmental organisations who comprise members of this Committee are working toward the development of the National Policy and Plan of Action against Child Labour. The National Steering Committee is guided by the ILO Conventions on Child Labour to ensure that cases of child labour as were highlighted in the sports goods manufacturing industry does not take place in any industry in Trinidad and Tobago. Despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Labour continues to keep the population informed about child labour and how they can all contribute toward the theme for 2021: ACT Now: End Child Labour. Remember T&T, everyone has a role to play in ensuring a Child Labour Free Trinidad and Tobago across all industries.