The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is clear about what qualifies as “child labour” and what doesn’t.
It says children carry out a wide array of tasks and activities when they work, some mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous, harmful, hazardous and even reprehensible.
It notes, though, that not all work done by children should be classified as child labour that humankind ought to seek to eradicate.
The UN agency says children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling should generally be regarded as positive and worth encouraging.
“This includes activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays,” it notes.
It says these kinds of activities contribute to children’s development and to the welfare of their families, while providing the children with skills and experience and helping prepare them to be productive members of society in adult life.
So, the definition of “child labour” the ILO appears most comfortable with is “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to their physical and mental development”.
The tenth anniversary of the annual World’s Day Against Child Labour was marked yesterday, with the ILO expressing grave concern over failure or blatant refusal by some countries to bridge the gap between their ratification of conventions on the eradication of child labour and actually taking concrete action towards that end.
We concur with the ILO that when 215 million children labour to survive, over half of them exposed to the worst forms of child labour including slavery and involvement in armed conflict, complacency is not an option.
We have no cause to believe that Tanzania is the least vicious villain in the world on this particular score, what with the swelling numbers of young children left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities.
True, we may not have reached the stage of widespread sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.
We may also not have become notorious in procuring or offering children for illicit activities such as prostitution, pornographic performances or drug trafficking.
But ballooning armies of our very own children are engaged in work likely to deprive them of the opportunity to attend school while also putting at great or permanent risk their health, safety or morals.
These hapless children are to be found in a wide range of sectors, particularly agriculture, mining and quarrying, fishing, manufacturing and construction.
Many others are doing all manner of odd jobs in wholesale and retail trade; restaurants and hotels; transport, storage, communications; real estate; domestic chores; etc., often at dehumanisingly low pay.
The existence of these cruel and embarrassing facts have long been acknowledged, with national governments and international organisations among the agencies pumping financial and various other resources into efforts to rectify the situation – but often to little avail.
So the world keeps “celebrating” WDACL each passing year, and it is always business as usual soon after.