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The revelation by the Registrar of the Sugar Industry Tribunal and Industrial Commissioner, Timothy Brown that child labour is practised in the sugar industry is timely and needs prompt action.
Reports on child labour in Lautoka and Rarawai have been received, according to Mr Brown.
The Sugar Tribunal is also engaging in it’s educational programme with farmers on the negative impact of child labour on the industry.
The practice of child labour will delay the process of acquiring further Fairtrade Certification for the industry. Fairtrade is a global certification organisation that encourages growers to plant and harvest cane ethically according to strict guidelines. Also included are the non-use of child labour and chemical fertilisers.
Regulation 21 (b) of the Memorandum of Gang Agreement (MOGA) requires that children under 18 years of age are not to be employed for cane harvesting or for any other hazardous activities, or to work in a manner that could be harmful to their health and well being or could affect their education.
The sugar industry had earlier in 2010 announced the banning of any agro-chemicals or herbicides having paraquat dichloride as the active ingredients.
To be eligible for Fairtrade certification, cane growers are also required to form democratic organisations or cane producer associations as this is a requirement.
A warning has also been sent out telling farmers that appropriate sanction will be imposed on anyone found to be in contravention of the MOGA.
Actions that can be taken include suspension of gang/grower or loss of quota, there is also the possible loss of Fairtrade Premium benefits for persistent offenders.
Associations that do not adhere to requirements can face de-registration and legal action.
Farmers should adhere to this warning especially when the sugar industry is thriving and has the full support of the Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama-led government.
Recent surveys found that some children leave school during the cane harvesting season to harvest sugarcane and but do not return to school when the season is over.
Realistically, too many children are missing out on their childhood and the benefits of education. Many children are victims of the worst forms of child labour, including commercial sexual exploitation and hazardous work.
Child labour not only prevents children from acquiring the skills and education they need for a better future, it also perpetuates poverty and affects national economies through losses in competitiveness, productivity and potential income.
Fiji is one of the eleven countries identified for the project called TACKLE and it aims to tackle child labour through education.
The overall objective of TACKLE is to contribute towards poverty reduction by providing equitable access to basic education and skills development to children involved in child labour or at risk of being involved in child labour.
Child labour is wrong and we must join hands to stop it.