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In the News
Last Updated: 07/28/2003Children and Human Rights
Increasingly children are in the news for all the wrong reasons. This last week or so has been no exception. Amisha Koria summarises some of the worst abuses and provides information on some of the leading web sites dealing with children and human rights issues.
In South Africa, money was exchanged for life. Little over a dollar was the price paid for a 5 month old baby boy sold by his own mother. Sarah Esterhuizen is currently facing charges after the couple who bought the child tried to sell him on to somebody else. Authorities were called into investigate the sale which took place in Mpumalanga, northeast of Johannesburg. Esterhuizen is currently facing charges of abandonment and child trafficking. Although not condoning the sale the baby, a member of the Child Abuse Action Group stated that often under very harsh conditions a mother may be feel that she has no other option but to sell her child. Lack of government assistance and Post Natal Depression may be 2 of the reasons and there is not sufficient aid to cope with the problems. http://www.scotlandonsunday.com/
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has released stark warnings that their rehabilitation program for the child soldiers who fought in Sierra Leone’s civil wars is on the brink of collapse due to a lack of funding. The program needs $1.4 million in the short term and $2.5 million in the long term if it is to complete the plans for re-education and reintegration. If the funds are not available UNICEF will be force to close down the programs. With the threat of war tottering on the borders, and recruitment of child soldiers once again taking place across Africa, pulling out the children of the program at this critical stage will be detrimental and devalue the work that has gone in so far.
The program so far had been successful with approximately 98% of former child soldiers returned to their communities.
11 NGO’s in India have agreed to support the government in plans to rehabilitate street children. Starting first with street families, the NGO’s are to join forces with private companies to guarantee that more than 1500 children are rehabilitated. Under previous government plans 1200 street children have been rehabilitated to date, amongst those, many are waiting to join schools or vocational training institutions. Plans to improve relationships between the government and the NGO’s will create better opportunities to link policies with programs for the families and also to unite the NGO’s, who alone cannot tackle the situation effectively.
WACAP (the West Africa Cocoa/ Agriculture Project) was launched on the 15 July 2003. WACAP aims to stop the use of child labour in cocoa farms and agriculture. The 3-year project applies to 5 countries in West Africa, seeks to release and educate 10000 children below the age of 18 from exploitation on farms. WACAP was initiated as an answer to the threats from Europe and the US to boycott cocoa products, over concerns of the use of children in the production process. This would have created huge problems for the economies of the countries that depend on income from Cocoa products.
The Ghanaian government received a grant of $2.3million from the US Agency for International Development to assist in the process of eradicating child labour in the cocoa production and providing opportunities for the children involved. To date 2,000 children have been withdrawn from working under these conditions. The majority of the projects not only focus on removing the children from the practice but also to integrate them into society and education. http://www.ghanaweb.com/
45 children who were abducted by The Lords Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda have drowned. The LRA forced the children to cross a flooded river after government soldiers blocked the only bridge. The children aged between 9 and 15 died in the Moroto River on 15 July 2003. The LRA are fighting against President Yoweri Museveni's secular government and are using a brutal campaign against civilians to get their voices heard.
Amnesty International has publicly condemned the use of the death penalty on people who commit crimes under age of 18. Brought to public attention once again over the case with Washington Sniper Suspect Lee Boyd Malvo. Malvo was charged with murder over the part he played in the shootings that began on October 2 2002. Under US federal Law a minor may be subjected to the death penalty. Malvo was 17 when he was arrested and charged with the murders.
The Convention for the Rights of the Child, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in November 1989, seeks to uphold protection for children. It guarantees children all over the world to: the right to life, liberty, education and healthcare. It also provides protection under the following conditions:
It is the single most widely ratified treaty in existence today and has been signed by every country in the world with the exception of the United States and Somalia.
Amnesty International has recently published a report that states that the US "is the only country in the world to openly carry out child offender executions within the framework of its ordinary criminal justice system". AI are calling for executions carried out on minor offenders to be recognized as “peremptory norm” of international law, regardless of if a country has signed a treaty banning the action or not.
The attorney general of the state of Virginia where Malvo will face trial, has released a statement saying that the courts made the decision to try juveniles as adults and to give them adult sentences in an attempt to try and combat violent crime in the state.
Across the world children have become a new weapon for armies in wars and conflicts. Whether abducted from their homes, recruited forcefully or recruited with promises of a better life, the use of children during war is more and more common. Current reports state that there are currently 300,000 children acting as soldiers worldwide. Their tasks vary from down in the front line, to suicide missions to acting as spies, messengers or lookouts.
Recruitment to armed forces (sometimes government) or paramilitary groups comes in a number of different forms. Many are abducted from their families and their families often to poor/afraid for their own safety/ lacking resources and support cannot go and search for them.
Others are recruited by force with threats of death against them or their families and other willingly sign up seeing fighting with an organized force the only method of escaping poverty or seeking revenge or for the last chance of survival.
Conditions for child soldiers completely fall against the Convention of the Right of the Child. Pulled out from families, education and trained in combat, these children experience conflicts and witness horrors and traumas that affect them both physically and psychologically. Due to lack of experience and a certain disregard on behalf of the commanders of the value of child soldiers compared with adult soldiers, it is the children who often fall at the first hurdle. Following conflict, children with physiological scars find it extremely difficult to lead a normal life and integrate themselves in society. Without an education many fall to a life of crime or drugs and are more exposed to being recruited in further conflicts.
Child soldiers are not limited to boys either. Many young girls take part in armed conflicts and others are open to sexual abuse at the hands of their leaders.
Amongst many of the NGO’s dealing with issues of Child Soldiers are Coalition to Stop the use of Child Soldiers (www.child-soldiers.org). The fundamental aims of the coalition are to:
Working with an extensive network of governments, UN bodies and NGO’s in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the middle east they are seeking to change international laws primarily against the use of child soldiers but also about the legal ramifications of those caught recruiting them.
The International Labour Organization calculates that there are approximately 250million children worldwide between 5 and 14 who are working, of these 125million work full time. Children below the legal age find themselves working under dangerous and damaging condition that not only jeopardize their physical safety but psychologically as well. Images of children weaving carpets, in factory production lines or foraging amongst landfill sites have long since caught our attention. Harvest time in a number of countries rely on the use of children to reap the crops and domestic work. Regardless of the type of work a child is doing, most are undertaken under severe conditions with disregard for safety, respect and often under violence superiors.
Bonded Labour also includes children. On many occasions a child will inherit a debt from their parents, if the parents are enslaved, the children of the slaves automatically belong to the enslavers. The parents have no voice in the matter. They see their children following their same way of life with no chance of being free from it. For the children they witness horrific human rights abuses at the hands of the enslavers towards their parents, from sexual abuse towards the women and physical abuse towards the men.
It is often easy to believe that child labour only exists in developing countries. However, although figures are exceptionally higher in developing countries it exists in more advanced countries too. The nature of the working environment in developed countries has probably led to an increase in child labour over the last few years, with service industries seeking a more flexible workforce. Developing countries also have laws in place to protect children and are trying to combat the problem but when looking at statistics alone the severity of the situation is highlighted. In Latin America children make up 17% of the workforce whilst in Asia it is 22%. These figures include children working for their own families, at home, in the fields and on the streets.
Traditional methods to try and combat Child Labour focus on education, social awareness and activism and rehabilitation for the labourers. Many developing countries are seeking to make education free, although a huge increase in public spending would be needed to guarantee this free education. In Malawi in 1994 primary education was made free and saw a 50% increase in the number of children registering for school. In India, there are some 55million-working children and 50million able adults who are unemployed. With figures like these the arguments often heard about how economies would suffer if they were to withdraw their entire child workforce do not hold ground. Worldwide the figures are more startling with some 800 million adults unemployed and 250 million working children.
Education is essentially one of the keys to combating child labour. If the population is generally more educated, future generations can ensure that their future governments enforce labour legislation creating a safer, more secure working environment.
One method that many people believe is beneficial to stop Child Labour is boycotting products made by companies that use child labourers. For example the Nike and Gap factories in Asia frequently make headlines. However boycotting products by these companies may not benefit the children directly. If their factories are closed down most will end up out of work and on the streets further jeopardizing their safety. A more effective manner is to support the companies that follow ethical manufacturing practices. Direct pressure from the public on the industries will have far more influence.
FIFA (The World Football Association) who also came under criticism over conditions of the factories where the footballs are made has signed an international agreement that they will not put the FIFA seal on any footballs made by children. Under the agreement the football manufacturers will have to fund programmes to get the children who used to work back into education. Artsana an international toy manufacturer has also signed an international agreement that guarantees human, trade union and international labour and environment rights for its workers. Amongst some of the key clauses are minimum age restrictions and regulated hours.
However while international efforts are seeking to change legislation, differing reports are heard from the very children they are trying to protect. Many believe that they are fulfilling family duties and other receive a certain feeling of independence, although many of the children see education as important, some believe that it is overrated and comes with no guarantee of a better life in the future. There are child labourers who do want to work but within better working conditions, with fair wages, shorter hours and safer environments.
Amisha Koria is news editor for the Peace and Conflict Monitor. firstname.lastname@example.org