AN APPRAISAL OF CHILDREN’S RIGHT TO WORK IN AFRICA: THE CASE OF CAMEROON
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The right of children to work in Cameroon is considered a fundamental human right that ought to be respected, the constitution and the Labour code of Cameroon have guaranteed these inalienable rights of children as their fundamental rights.
This has been provided in the preamble of the constitution as further enshrined in article 65 which makes the preamble part and parcel of the constitution and other legislation enacted in the country.
The problem this research seeks to address is the ineffectiveness in the protection of the rights of the child to work in Cameroon which is manifested in the various forms of child labour such as child trafficking and sexual exploitation, especially child prostitution.
The practice of child trafficking affects the protection of children’s rights in Cameroon. Children are trafficked from the rural areas to urban areas to be used as labourers, hawkers, prostitutes, thieves and street beggars, however, this research paper aims to critically examine the right of children to work in Cameroon.
The research paper identifies children’s rights in Cameroon and the extent of the protection and examines possible recommendations for the protection of these rights. It was recommended that children should be allowed to work but they should not be subject to hard labour
The idea that children are right bearers rather than passive beneficiaries of their parents and state’s paternalistic favour and largesse, is of relatively recent origin. The presence of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 and the AU’s African Charter on the Rights and Security of the Child in 1990 enhances children’s rights. In the meantime, several African states’ constitutions adopted after 1990 began to include children’s rights.
Since children are a vulnerable group of people, they have a special and privileged role in society. The African Charter of the Rights and Protection of the Child sets an age cap of under 18 years. Children in Africa need special attention and protection. All humans under the age of 18 are considered children in this sense, and as such are entitled to the freedoms of speech, association, peaceful assembly, thinking faith, and conscience.
Many of the fundamental concepts that fuelled the children’s rights movement originated in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, This resulted in the United Nations General Assembly adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris in 1948. The definition of natural rights, which emerged as part of the medieval natural law tradition, was the real forerunner of human rights and children’s rights discourse. It was popularized during the Enlightenment by thinkers such as John Locke, Francis Hutcheson, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and it played a major role in the political debates of the American and French Revolutions. The contemporary human rights and children’s rights debates originated from this foundation. Due to intrinsic human weakness and as a precondition for the possibility of a just society, this was a response to slavery, torture, genocide, and war crimes.
Children are often exposed to deplorable care, adverse social and cultural norms, sexual violence, and various types of economically dangerous exploitation, including commercial sexual exploitation. Their guardians carry them to cities to care for them and maintain their well-being. As a result, they are reduced to slaves and are forced to work beyond their capacities. Some of them work for no pay, resulting in child violence and inequality. They are subjected to dangerous working environments that threaten their health and well-being as children. For man’s selfish interests, others are abducted and trafficked. Others are forced to beg on the streets and participate in illicit drug use. These practices infringe on children’s rights and health, as well as their ambitions to become future African leaders.
Indeed, one of the basic aims of international law has always been the preservation of peace. Human rights abuses are unavoidable, and their incidence, no matter how slight, is an issue that must be tackled. The prosecution of cases of human rights abuses, especially those concerning children’s rights, is enshrined in several international legal instruments.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereinafter referred to as CRC) was adopted by the United Nations in November 1989, and it entered into force less than a year later, in September 1990. The African Charter on the Rights and Protection of the Child (hereafter referred to as the African Children’s Charter), which was adopted in July 1990 and came into force in November 1999, was the result of African leaders’ decision to adopt their version of the CRC. Two globally recognized treaties secure children’s rights and health in Africa. There are others, such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Declaration on the Rights and Health of the Child.
Some courts also protect children’s rights and welfare in Africa, such as the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. This is a continental court formed by African countries to ensure the security of civil and human rights in Africa. It complements and enhances the roles of the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The CRC and the African Children’s Charter (hereinafter referred to as the ACRWC) were acknowledged, adopted and ratified in Cameroon, as part of its legislation ensuring the protection of children’s rights and welfare. As per article 45 of the Constitution of Cameroon, ratified treaties and international agreements take precedence over national laws. Cameroon is seen as a monistic state in terms of the status of the foreign instruments properly ratified by the government. However, as far as the implementation of ratified treaties is concerned, Cameroon is dualistic, as such treaties only take effect by national legislation.
Cameroon also has several statutory acts and decrees to protect children’s rights and health, such as (Section 1) of Law No. 2005/015 of 29 December 2005. Children should not be the target of torture. That is why Law No. 97/009 of 10 January 1997 States that the practice of torture in Cameroon must be prevented at all costs and that sanctions must be enforced. Section 7 of Law No 98/004 of 14 April 1998 specifies that all individuals are entitled to education irrespective of sex, religion, age, political opinion and social origin. Orphans can be adopted and directed by foster parents, foster homes or orphanages with good intentions to take care of children in compliance with Law No. 84/04 of July 1983. However, in compliance with Decree No. 2004/320 of 8 December 2004, the Government established several ministerial departments responsible for children’s rights.
The state has also delegated authority to various councils to provide assistance and relief to the vulnerable and needy, subject to a prior social inquiry undertaken by a social worker at a social action centre under the councils’ jurisdiction. As a result, children or minors who need assistance as a result of a violation of their rights will report their cases to various social action centres, such as non-governmental organizations (hereafter referred to as NGOs), which will forward their cases to the council for appropriate consideration. In 2003, the International Labour Organization (ILO) developed programs in Cameroon, such as the West African Cocoa/Agricultural Program to Eradicate Child Labor (WACAP), in partnership with the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC), to combat violations of children’s rights:
– To improve the capacity of national and community-level agencies and organizations to prepare, initiate, enforce, and review activities to prevent and eventually eradicate child labour in the cocoa sector;
– To remove all children involved in hazardous work in the cocoa sector;
– To prevent at-risk children from entering such work; and to improve the income earning capacity of adult family members through social protection schemes, allowing them to better care for their children in the future.
The law generally protects children from workplace abuse and stipulates punishments ranging from fines to imprisonment for violations; however, child labour, especially in the informal sector, continues to be an issue. By stressing the importance of a child’s education and cooperation with others in protecting a child, the ILO Convention No. 182 calls for the prohibition and abolition of the worst types of child labour as a matter of urgency. The ILO works with organizations in Cameroon, such as NkumuFed, to protect children’s rights, especially female children, from becoming victims of child labour. The Labour Code is an effort by the government to combat the worst forms of child labour. According to Law No. 017 of the Labour Code, children do not work in underground restaurants, bars, hotels, or any other job that exceeds their physical capability in the industrial zone.
A 2009 study conducted by the German Development Organization (GTZ) revealed that an estimated 432,000 girls have been raped in the past 20 years: 20 per cent of those raped were committed by family members, and the average age of victims was 15 years. Rape has gradually raised, according to Flavien Ndoko, the head of GTZ’s HIV/AIDS network, and only about one in every 20 rapists has been arrested. A campaign led by GTZ in 2009 urged victims to talk openly about rape.
Approximately 2000 children live on the streets of Cameroon’s major cities. The Project to Combat the Phenomenon of Street Children, a government-led program in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, collected data on street children and provided healthcare, education, and psychological services, as well as increasing the intake capacity of specialized centres.
There is a gradual troubling practice of child labour in Cameroon. According to government data on child labour in Cameroon from 2008, the agriculture sector employed 85.2 per cent of working children, either on family subsistence plots or on tea, banana, and palm oil plantations.
The types of tasks that children are assigned are causing concern. Children under the age of 14 are street vendors in Buea’s numerous streets, where their parents or foster parents hire them to earn a living. Mile 17 car park, Check Point market, and the streets of Molyko are some of the most well-known places where they sell. Children are exposed to the hazards of the streets by practices such as hawking. Some children work as domestic helpers, while others engage in prostitution. Some are forced to work in harsh conditions on farms to cultivate food and sell it for their parents’ benefit.
Children help with agricultural tasks such as pesticide application and machete clearing of banana and tea plantations. These two occupations are known to be potentially dangerous for young children. These are carried out because those who violate children’s rights are unaware of the legislation that protects them. It has however been rightly pointed out that ‘any work done by a child below working and remuneration standards as defined by law should be regarded as economic abuse of the child.’
Child labour is both a complex and complicated subject. These complexities manifest themselves at both theoretical and practical levels and both national and international levels. There is a good enforcement mechanism of children’s rights to work at the international and national levels. This is evident in various international Conventions and Declarations such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (CRC), and the African Charter of the Rights and Welfare of the Child 1990 (The African Children’s Charter). Cameroon to this effect has ratified the CRC and the African Children’s Charter. Cameroon has a good legal framework such as the Labour Code, Penal Code, and Criminal Procedure Code. This notwithstanding, there is the continuous practice of child labour. Children are taken from rural areas to urban areas by foster parents with promises of care and education, whereas, they are turned into labourers and victims of domestic violence. Some are converted into public vendors in streets aged 5 to 14 years.
In Cameroon, children are only allowed to attend primary school for six years, which usually ends at the age of twelve. Since they are not obligated to attend school but are not legally allowed to work, most children aged 13 to 14 are vulnerable to child labour. Furthermore, there is no legally mandated free basic education for children in Cameroon, raising the risk of children engaging in child labour. (39,40) Human trafficking laws continue to be at odds with international norms, as they include intimidation, the use of force, or violence to be identified for the crime of child trafficking, and people aged 16 to 18 are not considered children. Furthermore, the types of hazardous jobs that are forbidden for children under the age of 18 are not exhaustive, as work at extreme heights is not included.
According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics published in 2020, 43.7% of children between the age of 5-14 are working, 80.0% of children between 5-14 are attending School, 42.4% of children ages 7-14 are combining work and school while 64.5% of children in Cameroon is the primary completion rate
The Cameroon National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms which is the main enforcement mechanism of violations of children’s rights is impeded in its duty in this respective. This is due to two reasons. Firstly, the National Commission for Human rights and Freedoms is not independent of the government. This is evident for the fact that the government appoints its key personnel and funds the commission. With this scenario, it becomes difficult for the commission to write ill about the government. Serious violations of children’s rights are therefore not reported. Secondly, decisions of the commission relating to human rights violations are not binding. As such, it does not deter violation of children’s rights.
The purpose of this work is to elaborate on issues of child labour and to investigate child labour as a human right violation in Cameroon
The specific objectives are:
To examine the prohibition of child labour in international human rights law
Critically examine the development of children’s rights and the relative protection of children’s rights against child labour in Cameroon
To assess the prevalence of child labour in Cameroon
To make policy recommendations.
The questions that this research seeks to answer are:
- What is the National and international legal regime of children’s rights against child labour in Cameroon?
- Is the protection of children’s rights against child labour in Cameroon effective?
- Is child labour prevalent in Cameroon?
- What policy recommendations can be made to help Cameroon stop child labour?
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