When children are put to work too young, they are denied the chance to develop to their full potential.
Did you know that child labour is regarded a criminal offence in South Africa?
According to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), it is a criminal offence to employ a child younger than 15, except in the performing arts with a permit from the Department of Employment and Labour.
In addition, children aged 15 to 18 may not be employed to do work inappropriate for their age, or work that places them at risk.
The Department of Social Development is responsible for ensuring the care, protection and safety of all children.
Gyan Dwarika, the Deputy Director for Child Exploitation within the Child Protection directorate of the department, says child labour is the exploitation of children through any work that deprives them of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and is mentally, physically, socially and morally harmful.
“Such exploitation is prohibited by international and national legislation, although these laws do not consider all work by children as child labour. Exceptions include work by child artists and household chores,” says Dwarika.
However, she says artistic work and household chores are regarded as unlawful if they exploit children, are hazardous, age inappropriate or harmful to their development.
According to the International Labour Organisation, it is estimated that 164 million children around the world are affected by child labour, 600 000 of whom are in South Africa.
The Deputy Director: National Minimum Wage at the Department of Employment and Labour, Kekulu Padi, says it is also a criminal offence for a child to perform work that has been prohibited by the Minister of Employment and Labour through regulations.
The list of prohibited jobs is long and includes dangerous work such as deep sea fishing, the slaughtering of animals, manufacturing or packing of tobacco products, working in a shebeen or casino, pumping petrol and operating heavy equipment.
She says any person convicted of an offence related to child labour may be sentenced to a fine or a prison term of up to six years.
Padi says we all have an obligation to protect children by reporting child labour offences. This can be done at the Department of Employment and Labour offices (ask for a labour inspector), at the Department of Social Development office (ask for a social worker), at a child protection organisation or police station.
You can also call the Childline South Africa toll-free line 116.