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You are here: Home Media Desk Speeches 2018 Keynote address by the Minister of Labour, Mildred Oliphant, on the occasion of the National day against child labour held in Wesselsbron in the Free State province
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Keynote address by the Minister of Labour, Mildred Oliphant, on the occasion of the National day against child labour held in Wesselsbron in the Free State province

by lloyd last modified 2018-08-17 16:07

17 August 2018

Programme Director
Honourable Premier of the Province
Honourable Members of Parliament here present
Honourable Members of Executive Council of the Provincial
Director: International Labour Organisation
Director-General: Department of Labour
Deputy Directors-General
Leaders of our social partners: business, labour and community
Children who are our distinguished guests today
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen
Members of the Media
Good Morning
I am indeed humbled for being part of this important event. It is true that the global challenge of child labour has reached frightening proportions, especially in countries that are battling poverty, unemployment and inequality.  Child labour is a complex matter and as such, it requires all of us to be circumspect when crafting interventions to deal with it.  I know this because I am a mother, a grandmother and u-Rakgadi to many children including those that I owe no blood relations to.

A special welcome to our guests of honour this morning, of course our children.  This is about you with you, and not about you, without you.

As we celebrate the 100 years of Madiba ad Mama Sisulu, it will be appropriate that we quote few comments that they made at different public occasions, just to underscore the importance of why we are dealing with this subject.  Madiba once said, and I quote; “The children must play in the open veld, no longer tortured by the pangs of hunger, or ravaged by the disease or, threatened with the scourge of ignorance, molestation and abuse, and no longer required to engage in deeds, whose gravity exceeds the demands of their tender years.  He went on to say…Our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth who care for and protect our people.

The children who sleep in the streets, reduced to begging to make a living, are a testimony to an unfinished job.
The families who live in shacks with no running water, sanitation and electricity, are a reminder that the past continues to haunt the present.  He finished off by calling on all of us, to reach out to the children and do whatever we can, to support their fight to rise above their pain and suffering”. Close quote.

Mama Albertina Sisulu who was orphaned at a young age, had an ambition to be a teacher, which was however frustrated by the need to support her younger siblings. She ended up as a trained nurse at one of the Johannesburg Hospitals. When circumstances prevented her from becoming a teacher which was her first love, ended up becoming a nurse which included being a midwife, a profession which demonstrates her undying passion for children.  Today as we engage on this subject, I am certain that the words and contributions of these stalwarts will provide an inspiration for all of us to do the right thing.

Going back to the point about child labour being a complex subject, let me start off by clarifying what we are talking about. 

Firstly, not all work done by children, should be classified as child labour that is to be targeted for elimination. Children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development, or interfere with their schooling, is generally regarded as being something positive.
This includes activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. These kinds of activities contribute to children’s development and to the welfare of their families; they provide them with skills and experience, and help to prepare them to be productive members of society during their adult life.  Some of you will agree with me that some of what we have learnt from our parents has made us better citizens today.

However, the work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development, is the kind of Child Labour that must be targeted and eliminated.  Ladies and Gentlemen, in its most extreme forms, child labour involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities – often at a very early age. The moment child chores begin to interfere with the child’s schooling, obliging them to leave school prematurely, that is the kind of child labour that should have no place in the society.

I must also hasten to add, that whether or not particular forms of “work” can be called “child labour” depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is performed, and the objectives pursued.  This clearly demonstrates that what may appear to be falling outside of child labour as we know it, might very well have the hallmarks of child labour.  For this reason, we need to be vigorous when an activity performed by children, is suspect.
It will therefore be important for all of us to familiarise ourselves with Article 3 of ILO Convention No. 182, which spells out what is prohibited.

Programme Director; If I may again venture to say that the true character of any society, is revealed in how it treats its children.  Without sounding philosophical, it is true that when children are exploited for the economic gains of others, everybody loses, the children lose, their families lose, their country loses, and the world loses. When one child is exploited, every one of us is diminished. 


Let me reflect on the founding documents of our democratic South Africa including the international instruments signed by our country: The Freedom Charter, our own home-brewed charter for human rights which existed way before the dawn of democracy, is very apt on Children’s rights.   I draw your attention to where it states, and I quote, “Child labour, compound labour, the tot system and contract labour shall be abolished.” Close quote.  The ANC government has indeed ensured that this aspiration of our people, forms part of the body of our various legislative instruments.  In addition, the ANC led government has also subscribed to various International Covenants as part of its commitment to protect the rights of our children. 


To underscore the point, our Constitution, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the ILO’s Convention on the Minimum Age the South African Schools Act of 1996,
the ILO’s Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, the AU Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the Child Care Act of 1983, the Domestic Violence Act of 1998 and the Films and Publications Act of 1996, bear testimony to our resolve to tackle this problem on all fronts.


Ladies and gentlemen, notwithstanding all these policy measures, we know that there are still sectors that are prone to child labour. These include, Domestic work which is very difficult to detect because it happens within the confines of our homes and villages. It is also disturbing that the girl-child is always the hardest hit by these practices. A lot of working children are found in agriculture where they often work on farms with the whole family. Work in the informal economy which includes activities such as shoe cleaning, begging or collecting rubbish. Some forms of child labour are easy to observe, while others are hidden from the public eye.


Programme Director, We are making some progress in curbing child labour, all-be-it, not where we would want to be.  For example, in 2010, Statistics South Africa conducted a Survey of Activities of Young People as an add-on to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey.  The first stage of this survey, involved identifying households with children aged 7–17 years. The second stage involved a follow-up interviews with children in those households, to establish what kind of activities they were involved in.


The survey conducted in 2010, revealed that overall, 779 000 children remained vulnerable to child labour, indicating a slight decrease from 847 000 that was the case in 2006. Again, the study found that the girl-children were more likely to be affected than boys. The study also found that 116 000 children appeared to be doing work prohibited by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.  431 000 appeared to be working excessive hours for their age when all types of work were combined. 290 000 children reported having been injured at work or exposed to hazardous conditions.


A follow-up study results released on 16 March 2017, revealed that of the 1.1 million South African children, between ages of 7 and 17 years, 577 000 were involved in child labour.  This is down from 779 000 in 2010.  About 81 000 of the children involved in child labour, appeared to be doing work prohibited by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.  The Free State was the province where the largest number of children below the legal age, were identified as part of the workforce, on at least two farms in Wesselsbron. Labour Inspectors have since opened criminal cases against these farms, for contravening of section 43 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act in this regard which prohibits work by children.


This indicates that indeed, whilst we have made some progress, there is still a long way to go.  We must together, reaffirm our commitment towards ensuring that every child is protected from exploitative labour practices;
That no child is required, or permitted to perform work or provide services that are inappropriate, or placed at risk for their well-being. Children need special protection because they are among the most vulnerable members of society. They are dependent on others, their parents and families, or the state when the parents and families fail to do so.


In recognition of work that still lie ahead, in May 2010, South Africa became a signatory to the International Labour Organisation Roadmap towards the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour. The National Child Labour Programme of Action, became our roadmap towards the prevention, reduction and eventual elimination of child labour. The National Programme of Action Plan was first adopted in 2003, after extensive consultation with a wide range of non-governmental organisations, including groups of teenage children involved in different forms of child labour.


The key elements of the Programme include, targeting the implementation of various programmes and policy interventions on poverty, unemployment, labour and social matters. The programme prioritises areas where the work children do, by promoting legislative measures against Worst Forms of Child Labour; strengthening of national capacity to enforce legislative measures; and increasing public awareness and social mobilization against Worst Forms of Child Labour.


The programme is currently in its fourth phase highlighting core set of indicators for monitoring. These include, setting targets towards reducing key vulnerabilities, reducing the number of children falling within specific categories of child labour and specific steps by government to address the problems of child labour. Our efforts of implementing Child Labour Programme of Action, is beginning to yield some positive dividends, judging by the 2017 Statistics.


Ladies and gentlemen, I strongly believe that our social partners, business labour and Community formations, can play a vital role in curbing child labour, given their strategic location. Both the Employers and Trade unions may have to consider placing Child Labour, as a standard item when in their collective bargain agenda. This may also include, the possibility of concluding sector specific code of good practice on eliminating child labour. 


Programme Director, August being the women’s month in South Africa, it will be amiss of me not to stress that women have a much greater role to play in the fight against child labour.  When preparing this input, I came across some quotes by unknown authors and I quote, “A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water, and another that read something like this,…No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men.”

This was so true for own struggle against apartheid.  If it wasn’t for women participation, our freedom would still be a dream unfulfilled. Who can ever forget, the1956 women’s march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria.  We have yet come across a protest march, where a Prime Minister of a country, had to run away leaving his offices unattended.  Who can forget the kaleidoscope of colours of the African women wearing their traditional dresses, others wearing the African National Congress black, green and gold; Indian women in their white saris. Many women with babies on their backs and some domestic workers carrying their white employers' children along with them.


I strongly believe that with women on our side, the fight against child labour is winnable.  Some commentators of 1956, had it that, Prime Minister Strydom only ran away after someone translated the meaning of the song, “Wathinta Abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo, uzokufa.  I guess it may have been “Uzokufa” (You will die) that scared him and his ilk.


Ladies and gentlemen let me conclude, by saying that the ANC government has gone way beyond the call of duty, in crafting the legal framework to deal with child labour.  I can say without fear of contradiction, that the ANC cares for the people of this land, for if it was not the case, it would not have taken the call in the Freedom Charter to abolish child labour, the way that it has.  Our labour laws would not have placed instruments to curb child labour as one of its foundation. 
We would have not bothered to subscribe to the International Labour Organisation Roadmap towards the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour.


As a relatively young democracy, the ANC government has punched way above its weight, although few are too shy to admit.  We come a long way and we are the first to admit that there is still a long way to go.  The ANC Government knew that our mission to fix the mess of our colonial and apartheid past, will not be an easy project.  We started the journey of transforming our society with our citizens behind us, all we ask, is let us stay the course and finished what we have started.


To our children, dare not forget as you demand your rights, the line in the Ten Commandments that says, “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long.”  You must also remember that in our culture, a reference to your mother and your father, is not limited to your biological parents, but anybody who is fit to be your parent.

Together let us make this work,

I thank you.



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