Recent figures from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) show that:

  • Globally, 1 in 6 children work
  • 218 million children aged 5 – 17 are involved in child labour world wide
  • 126 million children work in hazardous conditions
  • The highest numbers of child labourers are in the Asia/Pacific region, where there are 122 million working children
  • The highest proportion of child labourers is in Sub Saharan Africa, where 26% of children (49 million) are involved in work.

How are the above figures relevant in Malaysia’s context? Are there really working children in our country? A simple walk around town will reveal a number of babies and young children who are being used to beg along five foot ways, pedestrian bridges, bus stops and so on (See 1 below). A recent news report from Star Metro (24/08/10) observed that about 20 children accompanied by their families were foraging for junk in the Bukit Beruntung landfill. Most of us would have thought that such situations only exist in very difficult countries.

Article 32 from the Convention of the Rights of the Children talks about the child’s right to be protected from work that threatens his or her health, education or development. The article stresses that “The State” shall set minimum ages for employment and regulate working conditions.

Have the parents’ difficult living conditions driven them to forget the need to protect their own children from the dangers of being left on the street and garbage fills? Are our social structures and state mechanisms so inadequate that families are not able find solutions to get themselves out of this economic rut?

SUKA Society is currently working towards starting children activity centers in low cost flats or slum areas. We hope that by having these centers in strategic locations; financially struggling parents are given the time to work without the worry of their children being left alone and without need to place their kids in welfare homes (See 2 below).

We hope that by doing this, we reduce the likelihood of children being neglected and indirectly release their parents to work to improve their own economic situation. Will parents take advantage of this opportunity to become self reliant and self sustainable for the sake of their own children? Or have the feelings of helplessness set in so deep that we will need to move mountains just to change one’s mindset?

Feel free to give us your thoughts and opinions.

Recent news reports:

1. The Star 06/04/10 -Using Children To Do It … Other beggars with very small children would wait at strategic spots such as the back lane near Plaza MPK. They would make their children sit in front of them, holding a bowl. On weekends and public holidays when human traffic was heavy, the mothers would leave their children at a strategic point before moving to another location to beg. But they would often return to watch over the young ones. Beggars with children who were independent sat along the pavement in front of shops or under trees near the terminal area. I noticed that many of these mothers had more than three children. There were those with five or six children “working” alongside them.

2. The Star 08/09/10 – JOHOR BARU: Akun Usop, 37, and his wife Mariana Romut, 23, locked their two-year-old daughter Nur Aisyah inside a room for 17 hours while they went job-hunting in Singapore, leaving her with only a plate of rice. In the magistrate’s court here yesterday, they were each slapped with the maximum RM5,000 fine under Section 33(a) of the Child Act 2001 for the offence committed in their Daiman Apartment unit in Jalan Jim Quee here on April 17.