The Uniting Church is doing important work in campaigning for the Australian government to play its part in eliminating harmful child labour, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania senior social justice advocate Dr Mark Zirnsak said.
The World Day Against Child Labour held on 12 June, highlights the global need to improve the safety and health of young workers and end underage labour.
According to recent estimates by the International Labour Organization (ILO), nearly one in ten (152 million) of the world’s children aged between five and 17 work in harmful labour situations. Approximately 73 million of these child labourers are engaged in particularly hazardous work.
In addition, more than 25 million people worldwide are trapped in forced labour, including over 4 million children.
“In a recent breakthrough the federal government announced it will introduce a Modern Slavery Law,” Dr Zirnsak said.
“The law will require all companies and non-government organisations operating in Australia with more than $100 million of global income to publicly report how they will address the risks of human trafficking, slavery and forced labour in their supply chains. The law will ask around 3000 companies and organisations to report.
“Five or six government employees will assist the companies and organisations to develop systems to address the risk of modern slavery in their supply chains.”
Dr Zirnsak said while this is a good outcome, the government is currently unable to determine which companies have $100 million of global revenue.
This means that companies and organisations that fail to meet their reporting obligations will not be penalised.
“The government has decided not to follow the UK government and introduce an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to coordinate the government’s efforts to address slavery, forced labour and human trafficking,” Dr Zirnsak said.
“Since the publication of the ILO’s first global estimates of child labour in 2000, we have seen a net reduction of 94 million children in harmful child labour. The number of children in particularly hazardous work fell by more than half over the same period.
“International cooperation is vital if harmful child labour is to be eliminated. That means that governments in countries like Australia need to be taking action to ensure goods and services produced overseas and imported into Australia have not been produced with the involvement of harmful child labour.”
“A tobacco plantation isn’t a safe or healthy place to work for a child, but it was the only way my family could survive. My parents are poor farmers and barely able to support a family of eight on about $50 per year. I had nothing. My parents are tobacco tenants and we all had to work together as a family. I’ve been working in tobacco since I was five. Attending school was never an option for me.
I woke up every day at four in the morning to go to work on a tobacco farm in Malawi’s Kasungu District.
The turning point for me was when officers from Malawi’s Ministry of Labour visited the Kasungu District to remove children from the farms. As a result, my parents told me that I would be able to go to school. I was 12yearsold. I felt extremely lucky.
In 2007, I was removed from child labour and sent to a public school nearby and supplied with uniforms, books and learning materials.
A year later, I was selected to attend the Kamuzu Academy, the most prestigious school in Malawi, located near the village of Mtunthama. The government selects one girl and one boy from each district with the best results from the Primary School Leaving Certificate, to receive a full scholarship to the Academy.
I’ve completed my A-levels and will be graduating this year from Kamuzu Academy. If I can get financial assistance, my dream is to go to the University of Malawi or any university outside the country to study marketing or finance and administration.
(Case study provided by the ILO International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour.)