Protecting child labourers was a hot topic at a labour law reform workshop in Yangon at the end of last week.
The Stakeholders’ Forum lauded improvements such as raising the minimum working age from 13 to 14 years old and developing a list of work deemed too hazardous for children under 18, but also called for more to be done to combat some of the worst forms of child labour.
The 2nd Stakeholders Forum on Labour Law Reform was convened by the Myanmar government in collaboration with Denmark, Japan, the United States, the European Union and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
The multi-governmental initiative was launched two years ago and is intended to help support Myanmar’s efforts to modernise labour codes, improve compliance with international labour standards, and foster a dialogue between the government, employers and workers.
According to the participant’s joint statement, many significant developments in regard to child labour have occurred since the last time the forum met in May 2015.
Child labour is endemic in Myanmar. The behemoth problem was recently thrown into the public spotlight by revelations of severe physical and psychological abuse of two child housemaids at a Yangon tailoring shop.
Since 2014, in collaboration with the ILO, Myanmar has undertaken a project called Myanmar Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (My-PEC). According to the ILO’s website, this program is aimed at reducing child labour.
Prominent human rights lawyer U Robert Sann Aung told The Myanmar Times that he supports the action taken by the ILO to increase the minimum working age given the problems that the country has faced.
“Child labourers, including housemaids, are suffering in our country. While there are still many issues faced by children in Myanmar, I believe that it is a good idea to increase the minimum working age to 14 and I support it,” he said.
Businesses found to be employing children under the age of 14 could face fines ranging from K5 million to K10 million, up to six months in prison, or both. It is also illegal for children aged 14 to 16 years to work more than four hours a day, according to the 2016 Shops and Work Departments Law, although the regulation is frequently flouted.
According to a Ministry of Labour survey, an estimated 24.4 to 33.6 percent of the 1.3 million child labourers are considered “hard workers” clocking 60 or more hours a week.
According to the 2014 census, more than one in five children between the ages of 10 and 17 in Myanmar go to work instead of school.