Unicef, ILO and EU launch joint programme to address child labour in Sabah


KOTA KINABALU: Children in oil palm estates in the Tawau district are set to benefit from an 18-month programme launched in conjunction with the World Day Against Child Labour on Wednesday (June 12).

Organised by the European Union (EU), International Labour Organization (ILO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), the programme aims to protect the rights of children and provide them with socio-economic inclusion.

Delegation of the EU Cooperation Team leader Dr Audrey Anne Rochelemagne said the initiative seeks to provide children with better access to education and training and address the root causes of child labour in the region.

She said child labour is widespread in Sabah’s oil palm plantations with many children working to help their parents and putting their own physical safety, health, development and education at risk.

The 2018 Employment Survey in Plantations by the Government of Malaysia estimated that 33,600 children aged five to 17 work in the oil palm sector, with Sabah accounting for 58.8% (about 19,800 children) of this total, she said.

Rochelemagne said eradicating child labour was a top priority for the EU, and working proactively to prevent it was all the more urgent right now.

“We know that strong, local partnerships are essential to understand, address and prevent child labour. This is why we have joined forces with ILO, Unicef and local actors to implement this programme,” she said in a statement.

She said the EU and its member states were committed to ensuring sustainable initiatives where no one is left behind.

Children work on plantations because their families struggle financially due to low wages and the pressure to increase palm fruit production, Rochelemagne said.

Limited access to formal education, childcare services and child protection on plantations worsened the situation, she added.

Unicef representative in Malaysia Robert Gass said every child, no matter their legal status, has a right to a childhood and the full range of rights guaranteed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“We believe that change is possible for children working in and around plantations if all sectors – public and private – work together to prevent and address the root causes leading to child labour, and to promote remedy when it occurs,” he said.

He added that partnership with stakeholders on the ground, like what was being done currently, was urgently needed for children in Sabah.

Gass said children of oil palm plantation workers face numerous barriers to alternative employment opportunities.

“These include lack of documentation, discrimination, isolation and limited access to education.

"(Given these circumstances) it is common for young persons aged 16 and above from the plantation community to be engaged as workers in the plantations,” he said.

Without training and skill enhancement, young workers tend to remain in the high-risk and low-paid sector, making it difficult to break out of the vicious cycle of poverty, he added.

ILO deputy regional director for Asia and the Pacific Panudda Boonpala welcomed the collaboration between the Malaysian government and key stakeholders, including employers, in making collective efforts to address the challenge of child labour.

He said the project will reach children, young persons as well as their families, both documented and undocumented, living and working in and around oil palm plantations in Tawau.

Among its objectives are: improving data collection of children working in and around oil palm plantations; increasing awareness of child rights issues and the root causes of child labour among key stakeholders; and conceiving and accelerating solutions to address child rights issues.

It also aims to produce a replicable education and training model, and formulate a joint roadmap between the government and the United Nations toward the eradication of child labour and related child rights issues in Sabah, said Panudda.

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