“In conflicts and disasters, protect children from child labour” ILO calls to build resilience in vulnerable communities in Sri Lanka

World Day Against Child Labour 12th of June, 2017 brings to light the impact that conflicts and disasters can have on child labour.

Press release | 10 June 2017
ILO News (Colombo): World Day Against Child Labour 12th of June, 2017 brings to light the impact that conflicts and disasters can have on child labour. Sri Lanka has experienced both disasters and conflict in recent times, making this World Day theme all the more important to draw attention to.

Past civil conflict in Sri Lanka had an impact on child labour -both in terms of underage recruitment of children in the armed conflict, and in perpetuating poverty pushing thousands of children and families to make the hard choice of pulling them out of school and in to work. Though the exact extent is unknown, past research and the Sri Lanka Roadmap 2016 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour suggest that child labour in the present day is one of the legacies of the civil conflict.

Natural or man-made disasters also have a direct effect in exacerbating economic and social vulnerability, thereby influencing negatively a families’ decision on whether to send a child to school or to work. The most recent monsoon related flood of May 2017, displaced and affected the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of families in the West and South of the country.

Literature on the Tsunami of 2004 indicates that children in the coastal region of Sri Lanka were most susceptible to child labour and abuse post-tsunami. The cyclical draught experienced in recent years too serves as a push factor to child labour. According to a recent assessment on the impact of drought on child welfare, 4% of the children surveyed were taken out of school and the draught prompted around 40% of parents in Mannar and Vavuniya, Northern Province, to reduce their spending on education. Though the exact extent to which these natural disasters have amplified the susceptibility of children to child labour is unknown, it is resoundingly clear that greater resilience needs to be built among vulnerable households.

Consolidated effort to increase resilience among vulnerable communities is needed for Sri Lanka to become a child-labour free country.

Sri Lanka has observed a major decline in the number of children engaged in child labour in recent decades. The Child Activity Survey (2016) reveals that compared to 1999, there was a decline of 89% in the number of children engaged in child labour, and a 40% decline in the number of children engaged in hazardous forms of child labour.

Nevertheless, out of a 4 million child population in Sri Lanka, 43,714 children are currently engaged in child labour, a large majority in hazardous work. As many as 36% of Sri Lanka’s working children have been exposed to undesirable or unsafe working conditions. Some 70% of working children indicated that they have suffered injury and illness due to work at least once in their lifetime. However, considering the severe level of underreporting of fatal and non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses overall , the extent of psychological and physical harm suffered by working children is very likely also an underestimate.

In the face of disasters, steady and commendable progress to end child labour lies in jeopardy. Building resilience among vulnerable communities and ensuring that children are protected from child labour could not be more crucial for Sri Lanka. It is an urgent and important effort for Sri Lanka to meet its national and international commitments to end child labour in the not too distant future.