Government lacks action plan to combat action plan to combat child prosecution, labour – US report
Children in Guyana are victims of “the worst forms of child labour”, including forced prostitution of girls as young as 12, according to a recently released US Department of Labor (DOL) 2011 report on International Child Labor and Forced Labour.
It blamed the situation partly on the absence of legislative gaps and lack of a national action plan to combat child labor.
The report, which was released last Tuesday, stated that Guyana made a minimal advancement in 2011 to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.
It said that in collaboration with the ILO, the Government conducted a Child Labour Rapid Assessment Survey to gather current data on child labor. The Government also launched a program to reduce child labor and increase access to quality education in rural areas. The program includes components to improve numeracy and literacy, provide nutritional support and raise awareness among parents.
“However, Guyana still has legislative gaps and lacks a national action plan to combat child labor. Commercial sexual exploitation of children is a problem in Guyana, including instances of forced prostitution,” the report said.
It added that there is limited evidence that children in Guyana are victims of both internal and international trafficking, with Amerindian girls being particularly vulnerable, as they are often trafficked to work in prostitution or domestic service.
“Human trafficking is prohibited under the Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2005, with the trafficking law criminalising child trafficking for exploitation in prostitution or pornography, but Guyana does not have legislation that addresses these issues outside a trafficking context. Though the Criminal Law Offences Act prohibits the selling, publishing and exhibiting of obscene material, it does not explicitly proscribe child pornography. Research found no evidence of other laws that would protect domestic servants or street children.”
In focusing on child labour, the report said that many Guyanese children work in domestic service and on the streets, typically as vendors or beggars.
“The practice of sending children from poor rural families to live with wealthier relatives or friends in urban areas sometimes results in domestic servitude. Children employed as domestics may work long hours and are isolated in private homes, where they are susceptible to physical and sexual abuse. Children working on the streets are vulnerable to severe weather, traffic accidents and crime.”
According to the report, children working in agriculture in Guyana may be exposed to hazards, including lifting and carrying heavy loads and working with pesticides. It added that although evidence is limited, reports indicate that some children work in other dangerous occupations, including fishing, construction, forestry, welding and mining, including gold mining.
“Children working in fishing are susceptible to risks such as drowning. Children working in forestry are believed to engage in both logging and the preservation of lumber. Logging may require children to use dangerous tools and carry heavy loads, while preserving lumber can expose them to toxic chemicals. In mines, children work with unsafe equipment and toxic substances. “
The report noted that Guyana’s Employment of Young Persons and Children Act and the Education Act both set the minimum age for employment at 15. Children younger than age 15 may be employed in family businesses or technical schools, provided such work is approved and supervised by the public authority. The Act also prohibits the employment of children under age 18 in industrial work at night and any work that may jeopardize their health, safety or morals.
“However, the law makes an exception for night work for children between ages 16 and 17 who are engaged in continuous work through day and night, including certain gold mining processes and the production of iron, steel, glass, paper and raw sugar.”
No child labour here
The report also noted that Guyana’s Occupational Safety and Health Act prohibits children under age 15 from working in factories and stipulates that persons under age 18 may be removed from factory work if authorities or inspectors determine that they are engaged in activities that are hazardous to their health or safety. The Government has issued a list of 22 hazardous occupations and processes that could threaten the health, safety, moral or personal development of children. The list includes work such as mining, construction, factory work and certain agricultural activities.
The report noted that Government has established a National Steering Committee on Child Labor (NSCCL), a committee within the Ministry of Labor, Human Services and Social Security (MOLHSSS), which is tasked with recommending policies and programmes to eliminate child labor in all its forms.
However, the NSCCL has reportedly stopped meeting on a regular basis, potentially limiting its ability to carry out its mandate.
According to the report in 2011, the MOLHSSS conducted over 4,000 workplace inspections, none of which revealed child labor violations.
“Throughout the reporting period, MOLHSSS also received several complaints of possible child labor, but targeted investigations revealed no violations. It is unknown why inspections did not find any child labor violations. Though MOLHSSS collects information on child labor cases, it does not make such data publicly available.”
The US report observed that the Ministry of Home Affairs, Guyana Police Force, MOLHSSS and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs can each play a role in prosecutions. However, capacity to carry out prosecutions is limited. With only 43 justices and magistrates, the courts have a backlog of cases on all matters of law, with more than a two-year waiting period.