The Irrawaddy

Labor Ministry: Nearly Half of Burma’s 1.2 million Child Workers are at Risk

A boy works at a seafood export factory in Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone, outside Rangoon, in 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

NAYPYIDAW — Nearly half of the 1.2 million child workers in Burma are engaged in a hazardous occupation, estimated the Union Minister for Labor, Immigration and Population U Thein Swe.

The minister highlighted the health risks posed to child workers as he addressed a meeting on developing a national-level plan to eliminate child labor in Burma, in Naypyidaw on Monday.

“We plan to finish formulating the plan by November,” said U Thein Swe. “We will conduct education campaigns to reduce child labor and we will try to remove children from hazardous workplaces.”

The International Labor Organization (ILO) regards those aged between five and 18 as children and according to Burma’s 2014 national population census, there are around 1.2 million laborers of this age in Burma, said the minister.

He added that he was concerned that the problem of child labor might continue because of the country’s developing economy.

“If we say we don’t allow children do such jobs, their families, who have to depend on their income, might face hardship,” he said.

Pilot surveys will be conducted in Rangoon and Irrawaddy divisions and in Mon State to find out the exact number of child laborers working in hazardous environments, U Win Shein, director-general of the Factory and Labor Laws Inspection Department, told the media.

The surveys will be jointly conducted by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Rehabilitation, and the ILO.

A local NGO Yadana Metta recently conducted a survey on 529 child laborers in Shan State’s Taunggyi Township and Bago’s Pyay Township.

The children surveyed reported carrying heavy items, inhaling dust and fumes, working in hot or unventilated places, working in lakes and rivers, or being exposed to hazardous substances.

“Children were often subjected to shouting, scolding, and cursing by employers and older employees, which could hinder the mental development of children,” according to the report.

Burma’s labor laws state that only children engaged in factory work can be classed as child labor, U Win Shein said.

“Child labor is that high because the ILO has also counted children who traditionally help their family businesses in agriculture, livestock breeding, and fisheries in rural areas,” he explained.

Major challenges in reducing child labor are poverty, education, natural disaster response, and internal migration, he added.

According to Burma’s labor law, children who have reached the age of 14 can legally work, if they have a doctor’s certificate saying they are healthy enough to do so.

The department estimates that there are over 11,000 children working in teashops and restaurants in Burma. U Win Shein also stressed the need to dispel the traditional belief that children in rural areas should drop out of school and help their families after completing basic education.

Burma signed the ILO Convention 182—the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention—on Dec. 18, 2013, and put forward an implementation report in September 2015.

With the support of the US Department of Labor, ILO is implementing a four-year project on the elimination of child labor in Burma that began on Dec. 31, 2013 and will end on Dec. 31, 2017.

As a result of this project, a national level working plan could be adopted soon, said minister U Thein Swe.

Translated by Thet Ko Ko