Experts warn of rise in child labour among vulnerable groups

Experts say children of vulnerable groups such as the poor and refugees are more at risk of being forced into labour.

PETALING JAYA: Experts today warned of a possible increase in child labour among the poor, undocumented, stateless and refugee groups as families struggle to survive the after-effects of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Speaking at a webinar on the subject, Bharati Pflug, a senior specialist for fundamental principles and rights at work at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said the pandemic would likely see a rise in number of children forced into labour.

Such labour includes pornography, drug trafficking, debt bondage, prostitution and hazardous jobs such as working underwater, working for long hours in unhealthy conditions, and working overnight using dangerous tools.

Pflug said the key cause of this would be the rising rate of unemployment.

“Families will use every available means to survive,” she said.

Somasundram Karuppiah from the Malaysian Trades Union Congress meanwhile spoke of the effect the Covid-19 crisis would have on the lives of migrant workers in the country.

He said they were unable to send money back home which in turn could cause many to resort to child labour in order to put food on the table.

In Malaysia, he said, there were over 500,000 oil palm smallholders who would need to be educated on the matter.

He called for efforts to ensure that contractors involved in running estates do not allow workers to bring in their families illegally, voicing concern over stateless children being employed during harvest time.

He also urged the government to provide the children of migrant workers with an education so that they would be able to earn a living.

Even among Malaysians, he said, although 99% of children are reportedly attending school, cases of child labour remain.

Rhymie Mohd Ramli, senior assistant director at the labour department, said child labour in formal places of employment in the peninsula was rare.

“Perhaps more in the informal category,” he added.

Such cases usually involve stateless children or those from the Bottom 40 group.

The webinar, titled “Covid-19: Protect children from child labour”, was organised by ILO and Unicef.

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