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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11720


Mr GRIFFIN (Bruce) (17:01): I stand today to grieve on the issue of child labour, an issue that affects many nations in the world, including our own. It affects millions of children and leads to great suffering. I do this on the basis of information provided through World Vision, and in particular World Vision's Australia' youth movement—VGen—which focuses on educating young people on global issues. We would all agree that children should be free to play, learn and grow. However, for some 10 per cent of the world's children over five years old, that is not an option. And that is truly an international disgrace.

Here are some facts. Child labour is work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity. It is often physically or mentally dangerous and, therefore, harmful to children. It interferes with schooling and development. It is estimated there are some 168 million children world-wide who are forced into child labour, and 85 million child labourers are found in hazardous work, the worst form. There are 73 million child labourers between five and 11 years of age; some 44 per cent of the total. As I said earlier, more than 10 per cent of the world's children aged five years and over are child labourers.

Interestingly, 58.6 per cent of the world's child labourers are engaged in the agricultural sector. More than 63 percent of employed children work in conditions that are classified as child labour. Eliminating child labour is estimated to contribute more than US$5 trillion to the global economy.

The largest number of child labourers are found in Asia and the Pacific region, approximately 78 million. Children in sub-Saharan Africa are most likely to enter child labour, with more than 21 per cent of children in the region engaged in some form of child labour—that is one in five. Latin America and the Caribbean has fewer; however, the region has the highest proportion of those involved in hazardous work—77 per cent of the 12.5 million. More child labour equals lower national income. The G20 cannot meet its targets of strong, sustained and balanced economic growth without ending child labour. It is something that is needed internationally to be taken up as a real issue.

World Vision has produced a range of fact sheets and information with respect to child labour. One which I am going to go through now is '13 myths about child labour'.

Myth 1: Child labour is necessary if children are going to survive extreme poverty.

In fact the reverse is often the case. Child labour often exacerbates the problem:

If children are engaged in hazardous work that impacts their physical or mental health and development, this may affect their ability to work in the future.

Often, we will be dealing with extreme poverty, but what we need in extreme poverty is for adult wages to increase. In that situation, parents can then afford to send their children to school. And we all know that education is the way we need to deal with the development of our young people, in order to ensure that they are able to contribute to society. If we do not deal with that then we will not deal with that issue.

Myth 2: I worked as a child; child labour does not do any harm. Child work is different to child labour. Child labour refers specifically to work that deprives children of their childhoods, their potential and their dignity. It is often mentally or physically dangerous and harmful. Of the 265 million children in employment, 168 million are child labourers doing jobs that impact negatively upon their long-term development. It is not about getting a job after school and it is not about doing a few hours at McDonald's; it is about the sort of work which people live with the implications of for the rest of their lives.

Myth 3: most child labourers are almost adults anyway, so it is okay. Not so. Alarmingly, 44 per cent of all child labourers are aged between five and 11 years—that is somewhere in the region of 77 million children. Of the 85 million children estimated to be in hazardous forms of labour, 37.8 million are aged between five and 14 years—with more than half that number under 12.

Myth 4: child labour is an inevitable consequence of growth and development. In fact, it is the reverse. It is more likely to be an obstacle to achieving growth. There is a strong negative correlation between the existence of child labour and per capita GDP. In other words, more child labour equals lower national income. It serves also to depress adult wages and ensure that technological progress is slow, and it also produces difficulties around attracting foreign investment. We need to invest in human capital, and that does not mean investing in children working, it means investing in developing a nation.

Myth 5: child labour is working in sweatshops. In fact, that is not the case, as I mentioned earlier. Some 58.6 per cent work in the agricultural sector. Only some 7.2 per cent of child labourers are working in sweatshop-like conditions, as we have come to know them in the way that they are often portrayed with respect to the industrial sector. But that does not mean that it is not dangerous. In fact, it is the reverse. There is exposure to pesticides and carrying heavy loads, often without protective clothing—all of these have a serious effect on the development of children.

Myth 6: some countries' economies could not survive without child labour. In fact, again, it is the reverse. Child labour actually hurts a country's economy. It drives down wages and increases adult unemployment, especially among younger adult workers, because children are doing the same jobs for less pay. This means that adults are not able to contribute to the economy productively, which is essential to ensure ongoing economic prosperity.

Myth 7: all businesses that use child labour should be shut down immediately. Well, no—that is actually not the answer either. We need to look at the question of developing industries and we need to ensure that industries that use child labour actually are encouraged and—as much as possible—forced to move away from that. We need to be in a situation where we actually ensure that those industries develop: allow for a situation where they are able to employ adult workers; ensure that business, civil society and government work together to address those root causes; and ensure that there are alternative solutions that are safe and which actually provide an opportunity for people to get work and for them to be able to sell their produce without the abuse of children.

Myth 8: the work that child labourers do is not very hard, so it is okay. In fact, as I said earlier, often they are working in hazardous conditions and often they are in a situation where they have long-term exposure to chemicals, abuse and exhaustion. They will often use dangerous blades and tools and, if we look at mining, are even often in a situation where they are exposed to explosives. The fact of the matter is that the work they are doing is often having a lasting impact on the development of those children, and that impact will last all their lives.

Myth 9: it is a cultural practice to start work younger overseas than it is here, so it is not so bad. Once again, that is not what we are dealing with here. We are dealing with a situation where parents often have to provide an opportunity to use their children, and that exploitation has an impact. But if we actually had a situation where there was a decent labour market in some of these countries then there would be the situation where parents could choose to withdraw their children from work, ensure that they got an education and give them the opportunities for the future.

Myth 10: children can go back to school later, once they have made a bit of money. Again, it just does not work that way. Once you have been out of school and in a situation where you have been required to work in order to ensure your family can survive, it is very hard to go back. This is not to mention the whole question of developmental issues and the impact that that has on those who have been out of a learning environment for a long period of time.

Myth 11: parents do not care about their children if they let them be exploited. Again, it is often the only choice these families have. They do not want to send them to work but they do not have a choice. Those are the circumstances they face in terms of the economies they are part of.

Myth 12: it is not Australia's job to end child labour. I am afraid it is all of our jobs. It is something that the international community has to take a lead role in to ensure that it is an issue that is dealt with internationally. The fact is that, with all the international organisations that we are part of, we have taken a view as a nation that those organisations should be used for the collective greater good. There is absolutely no doubt that more can and should be done with respect to addressing this issue in the international community. I think Australia plays a positive role; but, again it is a role that we have to build on into the future.

Myth 13: there will always be child labour and it is too big a problem to end. Again, that is not the case. The number of child labourers around the world has declined by one-third since the year 2000. That is 78 million children who are no longer working in exploitative conditions. Economies move on, society moves on and there is an opportunity as we move forward for this to be an issue in the past. One of the great things about humankind is the capacity over time, with respect to disease and a range of issues, for succeeding generations often to be in a situation where they can deal with problems of the past and ensure they are not problems for the future. Internationally we have a responsibility to ensure that this issue is dealt with.