RANGOON — Labor rights groups have welcomed remarks by the Minister of Labor Aye Myint, who pledged to start implementing a ban on child labor by December after Parliament passed International Labor Organization Convention 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labor into law on Wednesday.
In December 2013, Burma’s Parliament ratified the ILO Convention, which calls for immediate action to prohibit and the eliminate the worst forms of child labor, including slavery, trafficking, the use of children in armed conflict, the use of a child for prostitution, pornography and illicit activities (such as drug trafficking) as well as hazardous work.
A lawmaker said the president sent Union Parliament speaker a letter asking him to pass the convention into law, adding that the Labor Minister gained Parliament’s official approval for implementation of the law on Wednesday.
Aye Myint told MPs, “We will prevent and take action on all worst forms of child labor and also arrange free basic education and rehabilitation for children,” according to a statement by the Federation of Trade Unions Myanmar (FTUM) released Thursday.
The minister added that the government would begin full implementation in December, one year after ratification of the ILO convention.
Htwe Htwe Thein, a spokesperson from FTUM, said there is a dire need to address all forms of child labor in Burma, in particular the worst forms of labor.
“Currently, there are only discussions and negotiations for prohibition and elimination of child labor. We hope it can be started to be implemented in December since Parliament approved implementation [of the convention],” she said.
Htwe Htwe Thein said Labor Ministry officials had been receiving training on how to carry out a survey on child labor and will form a committee at the end of this month that will implement the convention.
She added that the government should also ratify and implement another ILO convention in order to better protect Burmese children. “I would like to also urge for the ratification of ILO Convention No.138 that sets a minimum age at which children can legally be employed or work,” she said.
A member of the Women and Children Affairs Committee of Upper House said that the implementation of convention 182 will help to eliminate child labor in the country and to rehabilitate those affected by it. “There are many cases of child labor in the country. They are losing their opportunities and rights, and some are even tortured at the work,” said the MP.
Child labor is a major problem in Burma, which is emerging from five decades of military dictatorship that wrecked the economy and the education system, encouraging many children to help their families by taking jobs in teashops or factories.
Children have long been exploited as part of labor pools both at home and abroad, working for a pittance and receiving few social protections, labor activists and community leaders say.
The Burma Army and some rebel groups are known to recruit child soldiers for deployment in the country’s long-running ethnic conflict. The ILO has been working with the army and rebels to address the issue and has had some success, although cases of child soldiers continue to be reported.