Sun | Feb 28, 2021

Child labour chills - Concerns raised as almost 30,000 youths engaged in hazardous work

Published:Sunday | December 8, 2019 | 12:00 AM
A 16-year-old Bustamante High School student packs ice on freshly caught lobster at Rocky Point Fishing Village in Clarendon last week.

More than 25 per cent of 11th graders of Bustamante High School students from the Rocky Point community in Clarendon drop out of high school before sitting their final exams, according to officials from the institution who last week bemoaned a “culture” of child labour at the fishing village.

  In other instances, teachers and staff from the institution have had to comb the beach almost daily, looking for truant students who flock the fishing village whenever fishermen return from sea, and offer their services or solicit food to sell so they can feed themselves and families.

  Tenth graders Jerome Swaby* and his schoolmate Jeffrey Jefferies* have been stacking lobsters and gutting fish for earnings at the Rocky Point Fishing Village in Clarendon for several months.

  As they packed ice around freshly caught lobsters last Wednesday, fish vendors explained that there are many more like them who are paid upwards of $1,000 a day for their duties.

  Fish vendors last week claimed the youngsters are never allowed on fishing expeditions; and that working at the fishing village teaches them responsibility, patience and customer service.

  It also exposes them to brotherly love and advice, and shields them from the lures of criminality rampant in Clarendon, where informal community and gangs promise quick gains for youths.

  Many of these children have lost their parents at sea and have no solid support at home, they explained. For some, their parents do not care about their whereabouts, leaving them to wander the beachfront.

  Farms and fishing villages like Rocky Point in Clarendon are being blamed as the main reasons that the parish ranks the highest for child-labour violations in Jamaica which, according to a 2016 study by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, was at an estimated 36,000 suspected cases islandwide.

  “It is the tradition of that community where students drop out of school and engage from activities that they earn from. It has been a long-standing issue. In fact, the dropout rate from that community has been a serious concern for us for a long time,” said Wayne Evans, principal of the Bustamante High School.

  “A lot of the children don’t finish school from that community,” continued Evans, noting the struggles of some children and the school’s efforts to provide support for them.

  “Some stop attending and we paid for CXC’s for them, and we had to literally go and get the children to do the exam. In that community, by the time they reach 16, 17, that’s when the family support falls apart,” he said, adding that some students are very talented, and their dropping out of school demotivates some teachers personally.

  Arthur Coleman, president of the Rocky Point Benevolent Society, said there is a mixture of realities faced by the youngsters who wander the beach each day.

  “Some children go on the beach to make a living because their parents are poor and are not able to send them to school. So they cut fish and hustle (sell) fish from the boats that come in to go to school,” said Coleman.

  “But you have another set that are just loose. They have no parental guidance. So they don’t go to school. They just cut fish on the beach and that’s their job. They don’t bother to go to school,” he continued, adding that the issue has also been one of contention in meetings.


  5,000 child labour cases in Clarendon

According to a 2016 study by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Clarendon recorded more than 5,000 suspected cases of child labour. St Elizabeth followed with 4,126, then St Thomas third with 4,078 cases. Most of the cases are believed to be centred at the island’s fishing villages, where most forms of child labour are considered hazardous.

Sasha Deer-Gordon, head of the Child Labour Unit in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, said many Jamaican families face tough economic times, but warned that child labour cannot be the solution.

Child labour opens up Jamaican children to a string of more heinous forms of child abuse, such as sexual assault and human trafficking.

“We have approximately 38,000 of our children engaged in child labour across the island, and of that number 26,000 of them are engaged in hazardous work. These include handling heavy machinery and spraying farm chemicals,” said Deer-Gordon, adding children who are brought to sea with their parents to the hazardous category.

“This type of work affects physical and mental development of children of a certain age group,” argued Deer-Gordon, noting that the unit still receives reports of children, especially in the rural areas, being withheld from school to work on their parents’ farms.


She bemoaned a lack of enforcement, as she noted also the growing rash of children who are forced to beg or wipe windshields in the Corporate Area. The Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) is the entity responsible for investigating suspected child-labour cases.

The CPFSA yesterday told The Sunday Gleaner that between 2015-2017, a total of 1,297 cases of child labour have been reported to the National Children’s Registry and reports are treated and investigated as high priority.

The agency could not speak specifically to child labour taking place at Rocky Point in Clarendon, but noted that it continues to monitor spaces where children are seen working, begging or loitering on the streets. This is a breach of the Child Care and Protection Act, the CPFSA said.

“An investigator working on a case of this nature works closely with the police to provide intervention in the best interest of the child. A needs assessment on the family is usually done, and, based on the outcome referrals are made to other social services agencies, such as PATH and Food For The Poor,” read an emailed response from the agency.

“The issue of street and working children is very dynamic and, as such, the CPFSA’s response to this issue is being done in a comprehensive manner. Last year, we commissioned a study which is currently being finalised. The findings of this research will be used to mobilise stakeholders to develop a framework of action for an integrated response to the issue of street and working children. It will also address the treatment of these children, parenting issues, as well as the family and the community.”

*Names changed