The Ministry of Labour, Local Government and Rural Development along with Winrock International, hosted a launch ceremony for the Country Level Engagement and Assistance to Reduce Child Labour (CLEAR II) Project. The CLEAR II Project is a global, four-year, United States Department of Labour funded project that provides technical assistance to support a global reduction in child labour. Belize has been identified among six (6) other countries to partner with CLEAR II. The Ministry of Labour, Local Government and Rural Development will be implementing CLEAR II to support the reduction of child labour in Belize in collaboration with Winrock International and partners Lawyers without Borders and Verité. WE spoke to Minister Hugo Patt who told us what type of legislation addressing child labour issues are being looked at.
Talking about the worst forms of child labor, having children as indicated by one of the board presentors that, we have children working from 7-to 14 doing work out in the field with agents that are harmful to them. Obviously, we have children in many cases where they are working long hours and so when we look at those kinds of situations that is where we have to address the issues. Certainly we don’t expect, and I’m sure that we do have a case where we have a father and a mother having your children go to a farm and not go to school . Certainly we don’t want to see a situation where we want to expose our children right after school going to do work that might seem hazardous or work that might affect them and so those are the kind of issues that we want to address this morning.
While the project aims at improvements in monitoring and enforcement of laws and policies related to child labour, Minister Patt spoke about reasonable policies that will not crush cultural practices or negatively affect parents who assign their children chores related to the family business after school. In Belize, especially in the agricultural aspects, farming families assign chores to their children after school hours in order to teach them responsibilities and have them learn to assist the family. Patt says that he wouldn’t want to see this completely done away with.
Minister Hugo Patt
While there might be the legal interpretation as to what is defined as child labor, I have asked the stakeholders to make as well a case [where] we know for a fact that, particularly with extended families, we have children coming home after school and assisting mom or dad with the chores. But how do we define those aspects of illegal jargon versus our cultural practices as wishful thinking? And so my contribution here is to sit down as a stakeholder, come up together and make yourselves a presentation . As I indicated the last thing we want to do is close all the gaps all the loops and completely go from an area where we have our children being able to assist. It is not exposing them to any kind of harm but assisting in the family to say, look, you came home from school and you have idle minds and when we have idle minds worst things tends to happen and so this is my plea to them . I am sure that there will be a fine and delicate line where cultural practices would have to match with what is legally acceptable.
In fact, Minister Patt is a cane farmer himself and he says his kids will learn the family business as well.
Minister Hugo Patt
I take my eldest son he’s now 16 I take him into the fields. I have a son of 8 years old and I don’t expose him to the kind of work as I indicated. As a father we grew up in very harsh conditions so to say but I cannot expose my children to them “look you all will be lazy for the rest of the weekend or they wouldn’t do anything obviously that is not the case. For us we grew up in extended family this is part of our tradition this apart of our culture. Certainly I will not expose my children to working long hours they have to learn the work eventually. I grew up in a environment where my father and my mother use to tell son it is not always the exercise book it is not always the pen you grew up in an environment where you had to the Machete so never forget where you came up from and so this is how I’m growing my children.
While some farmers are teaching their children the family business, others are engaging in child labor of their children. Minister Patt says there is a delicate balance that must be addressed and he was glad to see so many representatives from the agricultural sector at today’s launch.