By Petronella Sibeene
The first-ever conference on child labour kicked off yesterday in the capital with the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Alpheus !Naruseb, urging all Namibians to distinguish between work that could aid social development in children and activities that could be exploitative and harmful to their growth.
!Naruseb defined child work as that which is not harmful and can be beneficial to the development of the child while child labour is work of an exploitative nature that is also hazardous and interferes with a child’s education, mental and physical health.
Research findings reveal that the extent of the practice of the worst forms of child labour in Namibia is virtually impossible to quantify because the activities are illegal.
Despite that, Namibia is one of the countries with the worst forms of child labour regardless of favourable legal and policy frameworks in the country.
According to the Minister, “Children are used by adults to commit crime, children are forced by adults to work long hours and the commercial sexual exploitation of children [prevails],” the Minister said.
Namibia ratified the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions on the worst forms of child labour of 1999.
Research found that existing policies aimed at protecting children from all forms of child labour have serious weaknesses in implementation. One area of weakness is in coordination of programmes across ministries.
Different pieces of legislation or draft bills appear to be contradictory and need to be harmonised and updated, research suggested.
Research findings have also shown that over 90 percent of the children are in school and as such, chances are slim that this percentage can be forced into worst forms of child labour. However, the number of children that are not in school is also significant and according to the Minister, “it is not acceptable for a single Namibian child to be compelled by circumstances to engage in exploitative labour of any kind”.
The charcoal industry remains one of the leading industries in hiring children.
ILO says more girls are employed in domestic work than in any other form of child labour in the world including Namibia. They are exploited and abused on a routine basis, yet are nearly invisible among child labourers.
They work alone in individual households, hidden from public scrutiny, their lives controlled by their employers.
Child domestic workers may be subjected to verbal and physical abuse and are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence from men and boys living in or associated with the household.
“About 60 percent of the participating children considered their household tasks to be real work and in some cases exploitative,” the report said.
ILO further reveals that child domestic workers often are confined to their employer’s household, without access to any outside source of help. Many feel they must remain silent about the violence they endure, due to financial pressures and debts that make them afraid to lose their employment.
The Minister warned that child labour is an offence and those found guilty will pay a fine of N$20ǟ