By Faranak Bakhtiari

World Day Against Child Labor: socio-cultural, economic growth a must

June 13, 2020 - 9:11

TEHRAN – Although the main factor to help reduce child labor in society is cross-sectoral cooperation with all the related bodies and officials, socio-cultural capacities should be used more efficiently for economic growth for protecting children as a great social asset.

“We need to create a sense of responsibility in all members of the society to be able to take effective steps in this regard using the capacities of NGOs and volunteers,” Seyed Hassan Mousavi Chalak, head of the Iranian Social Workers Association, said in an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times.

 Labor and street children

Under the law, the employment of children aged 15 or younger is prohibited in Iran and there are also restrictions on types of jobs that 15-18-year-olds can do. For example, no child is allowed to work on jobs that pose occupational health hazards.

There are two concepts for labor children, some of whom are street children and others who are not homeless but have to work to provide a family livelihood.

Street children are homeless boys and girls, aged under 18 years, for whom “the street” has become home or their source of livelihood, and who are inadequately protected or supervised.

Poor children and their families may rely upon child labor to improve their chances of attaining necessities. However, children may be forced to work or take part in criminal activities through gangs, such as shoplifting, robbery, theft, and burglary.

Street children, runaways, or children living in poverty are also used in organized beggary.

Some of the children who had criminal backgrounds cannot also have a decent career, may get involved in illegal activities. Besides, they may not develop good social skills and are much more likely to suffer from depression, drug addictions, and identity difficulties.

On the other hand, some children work seasonally for different reasons. For example, they may work in summers to learn a skill, help their families, and save money to be financially independent or experienced.

Many of the villagers also ask their children to join them in farming, livestock breeding, and gardening, but not all of them are poor, but there has long been a concept among Iranians that work empowers the youth, and children were working limited hours with their families.

There was a plan called Ostad-Shagerdi (literally meaning teacher and student), through which children were sent to a skilled person to be trained professionally, it was much more like a bond between the teacher and student and the child was not paid.

This can be an opportunity for those aged 15-18 whose job is insecure. For example, during my previous career in the Welfare Organization, we have implemented an Ostad-Shagerdi plan in Kermanshah province, through which those children worked 4 hours a day and trained for 4 hours to help them both learn a skill and earn income.

We had three courses of training, including, life skills, vocational training and literacy, and healthcare services were provided to them free of charge, in addition to a shelter. After a while, they could live on their own and make a living.

We implemented a plan in several provinces across the country that these children were introduced to the grocery stores in each neighborhood and the grocer was a kind of supporter to the child to prevent them from being subject to any violence while working.

83-87% of working children financially struggling

Referring to the leading causes of child labor in the country, he noted that the current causes of child labor in the country are similar to its global causes, which are economic and financial issues.

The inefficient social security system is another reason behind child labor. If the coverage of social security expands and becomes stronger, a significant part of this phenomenon will decrease.

Some 83-87 percent of working children are those financially-struggling families.

Currently, 5-6 million people (that are legally eligible for a living allowance) are under the coverage of the Welfare Organization and Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation and are receiving subsidies, but the pension does not cover their living expenses.

Although the financial burden is indeed heavy for the government, we missed the capacity to expand social support, which might have been affected by various factors, such as U.S. sanctions, improper management, etc.

Now that the country’s economy is not in good condition, the population in need of continued support is growing, and this is worrisome.

Working children are consequences of inefficient economic and social security systems.

No law deficiencies on prevention of child labor

Different articles of the Constitution, the law on the Comprehensive Welfare and Social Security Organizational Structure, and Law on Maintenance of Women and Orphaned Children are all consisted of child labor prevention and protection of these children.

There are no law deficiencies in the country, even undocumented foreign nationals should be protected based on the law.

What makes the situation fragile is mostly lack of financial resources to enforce the law properly.

Even the law on the protection of the rights of the child, passed by the Guardian Council a few days ago, defines the protection for working children, banning economic exploitation, unfavorable working conditions, and long work.

Economic condition a factor to blame

Although the exact number of working children in the country is not known, what can be said is that the population has increased. When the economy gets weaker, we have to expect more phenomena like child labor, so that we need to take measures in this regard.

Education needed in places where children work

Referring to the barriers to organizing working children, he said that lack of suitable job opportunities for children of working age and lack of skill is the main reason behind this.

“We cannot stop the child from working and keep them off the street, but we can reduce the burden of this problem; sometimes streets are even safer for these kids because working for gangs and other illegal activities is much more dangerous,” he stated.

As all of these types of work interfere with a child’s education, most children have neither the time nor the energy, to attend school, so, education must be transferred to places where children work.

Socio-cultural capacities, cross-sectoral co-op are key factors

Although the main factor to help reduce these phenomena is cross-sectoral cooperation with all the related bodies and officials in attendance, socio-cultural capacities should be used for economic growth and protecting these children as our social capital.

“We need to create a sense of responsibility in all members of society to be able to take effective steps in this regard using the capacities of NGOs and volunteers.”

Some countries like India worked well on this issue without spending a big sum of money but by strengthening a sense of responsibility in the society which needs to be shared among other countries dealing with the same issue, he noted.

Good social capital can lead to various growth in a society, like promoting ethics, producing quality goods, and feeling responsible for whatever happens in society.

In the current situation that preventing children from working is difficult, if not impossible, it is essential to provide them with safe work, education and a suitable work environment, observing their right and reduce their presence in the street.

It is noteworthy to say that social issues are not political and should be separated from politics, but also should be prioritized and taken into consideration more seriously.

World Day Against Child Labor

The World Day Against Child Labour is an International Labour Organization (ILO)-sanctioned holiday first launched in 2002, aiming to raise awareness and activism to prevent child labor. It was spurred by ratifications of ILO Convention No. 138 on the minimum age for employment and ILO Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labor.

The World Day Against Child Labour, which is held every year on June 12, is intended to foster the worldwide movement against child labor in any of its forms.

World Day Against Child Labour 2020 focuses on the impact of the crisis on child labor. The COVID-19 health pandemic and the resulting economic and labor market shock are having a huge impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. Unfortunately, children are often the first to suffer. The crisis can push millions of vulnerable children into child labor.

Already, there are an estimated 152 million children in child labor, 72 million of which are in hazardous work. These children are now at even greater risk of facing circumstances that are even more difficult and working longer hours.

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