International initiative to help kids in Sabah oil palm estates

KOTA KINABALU: Child labour is the focus of an 18-month programme by several international organisations that seeks to provide better protection and education for children in oil palm estates in Tawau district.

The programme is a collaboration between the European Union (EU), International Labour Organisation (ILO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and initiated in conjunction with the World Day Against Child Labour.

Dr Audrey Anne Rochelemagne, cooperation team leader at the delegation of the EU, said the initiative seeks to provide these children with better access to education and training opportunities, helping to address the root causes of child labour in the region.

“Child labour in Sabah’s oil palm plantation is widespread and many children work to assist their parents, risking their physical safety, health, education, and development,” she said.

The 2018 Employment Survey in Plantations by the Malaysian government, she noted, estimated that 33,600 children aged five to 17 worked in the oil palm industry, with Sabah accounting for 58.8% (about 19,800 children) of this total.

Unicef representative in Malaysia Robert Gass said children of oil palm plantation workers face numerous barriers to access alternative employment opportunities.

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 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 in addressing the challenges 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, and is expected to run up to June 2025.

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