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The prohibition of child labour in Cameroon

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Children are persons below the age of 18 years. They are unique and privileged since they are a vulnerable group of human beings.

Children have human rights such as the right to education, health and a standard of living. These rights have to be respected and protected.

The ideas that animated children’s right movement developed after the Second World War.

This research exposes child labour as a major infringement of child rights that needs to be eliminated. Children engage in this activity out of desperation or are forced. Although they are coming from poor families, some of them have to.

Others are trafficked and forced to work in plantations while others are in commercial sexual exploitation.

It therefore becomes necessary to investigate the causes of children’s rights violation in Cameroon and possible mechanisms put in place to effectively protect these sets of persons and also to investigate if these mechanisms put in place by the Cameroonian legislators are effective in the fight against child labour.

This work adopts the doctrinal research method which is appropriate in law. It therefore makes use of content analysis.

                                                  CHAPTER ONE


Perspectives on child labour can be understood by examining the history from which they draw meaning. “Child labour”, in terms of harmful activities, as opposed to “child work”, in terms of friendly activities for children, can be traced to the rise in industrial production and capitalism.

Records show that child labour appeared in the earlier stages in agricultural societies. However the practice became more conspicuous in the 18th Century Britain, and this is when people began to be opposed to it. Boys as young as 10 were employed in factories and mines whose activities were deemed dangerous to children’s health.

By 1880, the English Education Act had decreed that all children between 5 and 10 years should attend school hoping that they would eventually be excluded from workplace considered to be adult sphere.[1]

The term “child labour” was coined in Britain during the 19th Century and it implied that the children were not supposed to work at all. Today, in the developed world, child labour is considered inappropriate for children below a certain age.

Activities defined as child labour exclude household and school-related for these are considered not hazardous for children’s health. However, the minimum age by which children should work varies from country to country and is sometimes dependent on the type of work that children do.

Besides, languages in some countries lack phrases forbidding children to work.[2] The most common expression used is the one similar to “child work”.[3] Many countries as well as international organisations consider child labour exploitative and have made it illegal.[4]

During the Industrial Revolution, children as young as 4, were employed in production factories. At that time, the conditions of work in factories were dangerous and often fatal.

Children worked with cotton milling machines; they also worked in coal mines where they crawled through tunnels which were too narrow for adults. Some children worked as domestic servants while others worked as prostitutes.[5]

Children worked as assistants or apprentices in the lodging industries. Girls learned how to sew, knit, and plait straw while boys learned how to soften leather, shape cast iron, and weave warp and weft. Tuttle argues that the industry preferred children to adults because children provided cheap labour as they were “submissive, uneducated and nimble”.[6]

Children, mainly from poor families, were expected to help towards the family livelihood. Apart from wage employment, children also worked on the family farm where they pulled weeds, planted seeds and harvested crops.

Such economic forces and stereotyping coupled with child vulnerability became so strong that neither child labour laws nor mandatory schooling legislation were an effective means to stop child labour.

The period of industrialisation in Great Britain and other European countries saw children’s work shift from home and farm and into mills, factories and mines.

The nature of child labour changed dramatically with changes from the informal to the formal production during the British Industrial Revolution, to bring them in line with new demands by industries.

Unlike the pre-industrial era when children worked at home with their families, children began to 10 work outside the home in factories and mines for strangers for a wage, creating a rare opportunity for children to become independent wage earners.

Children worked long hours in hot stuffy factories and in cold damp coal and metal mines, with only a few short recesses. It is claimed that children could work as much as 16 hours for a day.[7]

The crusade against child labour in most Western countries began in the late 19th century. Specifically this can be traced back to 1833 when Robert Peel’s Factories Act was passed in Great Britain. Since then, many societies have engaged themselves seriously and systematically to eliminate child labour.[8]

Despite the progress in world economic development and the presence of prohibitive acts such as the Factories Act, the world output of child labour continued to grow. However the period of activism and economic progress (19th and early 20th centuries) saw sharp reductions in child labour in industrialised nations.

It has been argued that this reduction was due the shifting of child labour to the developing world which had also its own child labour problems. Indeed child labour was almost completely eliminated from the developed world while it migrated to the developing world which provided favourable social, cultural and economic climate.

In Britain the first meaningful investigation into issues of child labour took place in the 1830s when the English parliament set up a commission.[9]

The commission found that children as young as 8 worked about 16 hours daily. Some children were being sold to mill owners and others were reportedly being locked up in the mill day and night working. Some children who lived with their parents supplemented family income with their hardearned wages.[10]

When the Factory Act was passed in 1833 it banned work for persons less than 9 years old and restricted the working day to 8 hours for those less than 14 years. Such activities changed people’s perception on child labour. Child labour was being likened to slavery, and this change in its perception helped the campaign.

This change led into children being treated as persons whose rights mattered.[11] In the US child labour became an issue in the 1850s especially in large cities like New York. Child labour worsened with increased industrialisation.

Parents sent out children as young as 6, to earn something with which to contribute to the household economy. The jobs that children did were considered risky, endangering to children’s lives, and low-paying. Children 11 worked in dark textile mills and coal mines. Efforts to deal with child labour in the US have remained unsuccessful to the present day; children from migrant farming families still work in the US.[12]

Exploitation of working children in developing countries has been reported since the 1800s. However, political awareness concerning the effects of child labour has gained substantial momentum in the international community only since the start of the 1990s more specifically in 1999[13] with the adoption of the ILO Convention[14] 182 which focuses on the worst forms of child labour.[15] Even with this awareness and political intervention, child labour remains business as usual.[16]

Calls to eliminate child labour resulted in the production of important documents used as global model of the rights of children and perhaps of childhood itself and have since been used in this fight. It was not until the 1990s and specifically with the ratification of the CRC in 1989,[17] and through factors such as globalisation, that the world became aware of the persistence of child labour, and that the situation had not become much better than it had been during the industrial revolution.[18] The only difference was that most developing countries had not industrialised much. The revelation of the magnitude and intensity of child labour presence gave rise to unprecedented levels of research with the hope of arriving at a sustainable global solution. However, two decades after the CRC, the problem seems to have defied best available means to its eradication or alleviation as provided for in the convention.

In Cameroon, the CRC and the African Children’s Charter (hereafter referred to as ACRWC) were recognized, accepted and ratified[19] as part of its laws ensuring the protection of children’s child labour. As per article 45 of the Constitution of Cameroon, the ratified treaties and international agreements take precedence over national laws.[20] Cameroon is seen to be a monist state in terms of the status of International instruments duly ratified by the government. However, with regards to the application of ratified treaties, Cameroon is dualist as such treaties only take effect through domestication by national law.

 In 2003, The International Labour Organization (ILO) established programs in collaboration with the International Program on the Elimination of Child labour (IPEC). The ILO Convention No. 182 calls for the prohibition and the elimination of the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency by exposing the importance of a child’s education and solidarity with others in protecting a child.[21]

There is a gradual alarming practice of child labour in Cameroon. According to the 2008 government statistics on child labour in Cameroon, 85.2% of working children were employed in the agriculture sector, either on some family subsistence plots or on tea, banana, and palm oil plantations.[22] In the urban informal sector, children work as street vendors, car washers, and domestic workers.


There is a good enforcement mechanism of child labour at the international and national level. 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. Some are converted into public vendors in streets aged 5 to 14 years.

However, despite the laws enacted by the state of Cameroon to prohibit child labour its enforceability has been a great topic of discussion as children right are continually violated throughout the national territory.


1.3.1. Main research question

  • What are the mechanisms put in place to prohibit child labour in Cameroon?

1.3.2. Specific research question

  • How is child labour conceptualized in cameroon?
  • What does the Cameroonian law says about child labour?
  • How effective are Cameroonian laws in the prohibiting child labour?
  • What policy recommendations can be made as regards the topic.


1.4.1. General objective

The purpose of this work is General objective

  • The main purpose of this work is to assess the mechanisms put in place to prohibit the practice of child labour in Cameroon.

1.4.2. The specific objectives

  • To critically conceptualized the situation of child labour in Cameroon.
  • To critically examine the prohibition of child labour by the Cameroonian labour code
  • To critically examine the effectiveness of the Cameroonian labour code on the prohibition of child labour.
  • To propose policy recommendations.

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