Sunday, January 25, 2004


Thought that child labour was something that happened in other countries, or in the dark past of the Industrial Revolution, and certainly not in New Zealand? Think again. Caritas Aotearoa surveyed nearly 5000 schoolchildren, aged 10 - 17. 40% of them worked, and 45% of the workers were paid less than the minimum youth rate for 16 and 17 year olds (depending on the age distribution of respondents, this could actually be quite a good statistic, meaning that the minimum youth rate is being extended to under-16s). Children as young as 12 pumped gas (illegal for under-15s), children as young as 13 served alcohol (illegal for under-18s), and one 15 year old worked full-time in manufacturing for $2 an hour, in addition to trying to go to school. Some worked in unsafe environments, operated heavy machinery, or were beaten at work.

Most of this work is unproblematic - teenagers taking an after-school job in a supermarket, corner dairy, or working in a family business. But its clear that something needs to be done about the more egregious cases. There's nothing wrong with an after-school job, but it shouldn't interfere with education, expose children to danger, or be grossly exploitative. Introducing a minimum age of employment, limiting the hours that may be worked by children, and extending the youth rate down to that minimum age would all help to curb abuses and discourage those who seek to exploit children for financial gain.

Hopefully the government will be sorting this out if they adopt the ILO Minimum Age Convention.