By Liz Busisa
There are many kinds of labour that are considered legal in any jurisdiction. These are the kinds of labour practices that are beneficial to both individuals and their communities. However, a particular labour practice has come to be abused over several centuries ago till date that governments and other institutions concerned have seemed to embrace. This labour practice is conducted by children under extremely harsh conditions. It deprives them of their basic rights under the law that leads to their social and academic development. This is child labour.
Child labour may come in various forms. Historically, African children as young as 10 years old were forced to aid their parents and grandparents to work in large plantations or even do heavy house chores with little or no pay. They were tortured for failure to do their work by their masters. Worse was when these children were abused sexually and physically by being cruelly and inhumanely treated by their masters. Over the years, child labour has graduated into our very own domestic homes. Children born out of wedlock are usually despised in the family and subjected to forced labour. They are hardly given enough food or a comfortable place to sleep at the day’s end. These children wake up very early and sleep very late under deplorable conditions and when they get sick, they are never given medical attention.
It is with such conditions that governments and lawmaking institutions have come up with legislations to completely wipe out forced child labour from their societies. In Kenya, Parliament enacted the 2010 Constitution that spells out the rights of children under Article 53. This Constitution defines a child as being a person who has not attained the age of 18 years under Article 260. This definition can also be found under Section 2 of the Children Act, enacted in 2001.
The Children Act was passed following Kenya’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and it became the primary legislation on matters children. This Act abhors child labour under Section 10 inflicted on children and children of tender years (children under the age of 10). Child labour under this section means economic exploitation of any kind that is hazardous and is likely to interfere with the child’s education or to be harmful to the child’s health, physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. The Section further prohibits the recruitment of child soldiers in armed conflict, a provision similar to Article 38 and 39 of the UNCRC.
Moreover, Part VII of the Employment Act protects children from worst forms of child labour (Section 53). This Part also requires that no written contracts should be issued for children between the ages of 13 and 16 years (Section 57) as well as prohibiting children of such age from attending to machinery under Section 58. There is also a requirement that registers of children in employment be kept and there is a penalty for unlawfully employing a child.
Statistics by ChildHope UK show that in Kenya, 2.9 million children are working children. This is a term used to refer to children in forced labour. This is a result of poverty, which is viewed as the primary cause of child labour. It is estimated that about 60% of the total workforce in plantations in Central Kenya are children. In 1999, African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) estimated that about 3.5 million children aged between 6 and 14 years were child labourers and a significant amount of them in agriculture.
In 2015, Kenya made minimal advancements in efforts to eliminate child labour. The government continues to make cash transfers to make cash transfers to additional households as part of its National Safety Net Program for Results and participated in several programs to combat the worst forms of child labour. Kenya is yet to set a minimum age for work law and compulsory education age are not harmonized due to lack of a specific compulsory education age. Kenya has also not ratified the UNCRC Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, practices that are considered among the worst forms of child labour in the world.
Therefore, there is a lot to be done by the government and other key stakeholders in the private sector to eliminate child labour and encourage the advancement of the best interests of the child insofar as child labour is concerned. It is incumbent upon the government to tie up loose ends, enact and implement the relevant laws required to protect its children from harmful labour practices.
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