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EU, ILO and UNICEF launch programme to address child labour in Sabah

Publish date: Wed, 12 Jun 2024, 10:21 PM

THE European Union (EU), International Labour Organisation (ILO), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have come together to launch a programme aimed at promoting socioeconomic inclusion and protecting the rights of children in Tawau’s oil palm plantations.

The 18-month joint initiative, organised in conjunction with the World Day Against Child Labour, seeks to provide these children with better access to education and training opportunities, helping to address the root causes of child labour in the region.

Child labour in Sabah’s oil palm plantation is widespread. Many children work to assist their parents, risking their physical safety, health, education, and development.

The 2018 Employment Survey in Plantations by the Government of Malaysia estimated that 33,600 children aged 5-17 work in the oil palm industry, with Sabah accounting for 58.8% (about 19,800 children) of this total.

“Eradicating child labour is a top priority for the EU, and working proactively to prevent it is all the more urgent right now,” the EU delegation’s cooperation team leader Dr AudreyAnne Rochelemagne said.

“We know that strong, local partnerships are essential to understand, address and prevent child labour. This is why we have joined forces with ILO, UNICEF, and local actors to implement this programme.

“The EU and its Member States are committed to ensure sustainable initiatives where no one is left behind.”

Children work on plantations because their families struggle financially due to low wages and the pressure to increase palm fruit production, and limited access to formal education and to child protection as well as childcare services on oil palm plantations aggravate the situation.

“Every child, no matter their legal status, has a right to a childhood and the full range of rights guaranteed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” said UNICEF representative in Malaysia Robert Gass.

“We believe that change is possible for children working in and around plantations if all sectors - public and private - work together to prevent and address the root causes leading to child labour, and to promote remedy when it occurs.

“Partnership with stakeholders on the ground, like we are building today is urgent for children in Sabah.”

Children of oil palm plantation workers face numerous barriers to access alternative employment opportunities including the lack of documentation, discrimination, isolation, and

limited access to education.

In this context, it is common for young persons aged 16 and above from the plantation community to be engaged as workers in the plantation.

Without training and skill enhancement, young workers tend to remain in the high-risk and low-paid sector, making it difficult to break out of the vicious cycle of poverty.

“ILO appreciates the collaboration with the Malaysian government and key stakeholders including employers in making collective efforts to address the challenge of child labour,” remarked ILO deputy regional director for Asia and the Pacific Panudda Boonpala.

“We therefore welcome this new initiative and a continuation of our joint efforts to prevent and eliminate it.”

The project will reach children, young persons as well as their families, both documented and undocumented, living and working in and around oil palm plantations in Tawau, Sabah.

The project will run up to June 2025, and aims to improve data collection of children working in and around oil palm plantations; increase awareness of child rights issues that are the root causes of child labour among key stakeholders, and ideate and accelerate solutions to address child rights issues that are the root causes of child labour.

In addition, the aim of the initiative is also to produce replicable education and training model and to formulate a joint roadmap between the Malaysia government and the UN toward the eradication of child labour and related child rights issues in Sabah.

“Child labour is a severe human rights abuse and a form of labour exploitation, both globally and nationally,” Boonpala added.

“It not only prevents children from accessing education that they need for a better future, but also hinders older children from acquiring the skills that could enhance their employability.” - June 12, 2024

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