Child labour remains widespread in Laos, particularly in ethnic minority communities in rural areas despite laws prohibiting the practice, provincial teachers and education officials said Wednesday.
They said minors forego schooling to perform agricultural work or stay at home to take care of younger siblings while their parents work on farms.
The communist country’s amended Labour Law of 2007 prohibits the employment of children under 14 years of age and bans the involvement of children under 18 years old in sectors that are dangerous to their health.
The law also limits the work hours for children ages 14 to 18 to eight hours per day and prohibits night work for those less than 18 years of age.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) meanwhile will mark World Day Against Child Labour on June 12, focusing on the elimination of child labour and taking place amid the COVID-19 crisis, which the ILO says has threatened “to reverse years of progress in tackling the problem.”
In Save the Children’s 2021 Global Childhood Report, Laos ranked 143 of 186 countries on an index reflecting countries’ average levels of performance across a set of eight indicators related to child health, education, labour, marriage, childbirth, and violence.
The report found that 28.2 percent of children aged five to 17 performed labours in 2015-2020, while 23.2 percent of primary and secondary school-age children were out of school in 2015-2019.
“Parents do not understand that education is important for their children,” said a teacher from a primary school in Borikhamxay province who declined to provide her name.
Her students between the ages of 10 and 12 and who are from ethnic minority families quit school to help their parents work on farms or care for their younger brothers and sisters at home while their parents work during the day, she told RFA’s Lao Service.
“They just tell us that they want to take their children out of school for two to three days a week to take care for their younger brothers or sisters at home while the parents go to work at the fields.”
If the educators refuse to allow the absences, parents will take their children out of school, she said, adding that some students in primary school levels four and five already had left school.
Some schools allow the students to bring their younger siblings with them to class and educators are willing to help take care of them, though parents remain opposed and insist that the students care for their brothers and sisters at home, the teacher said.
Students ages 10 to 12 from rural areas often quit school to perform these functions, only attending classes two or three days a week, said an official from the Education Department in Sekong province.
“Students in primary school levels four and five on up quit school mostly to work on farms with their parents, take care of younger brothers or sisters at home, and collect wood in the forest to burn for fire, even though the schools do not allow this,” the official said.
“Child labour mostly comes from students whose families are poor and don’t have money to send their children to school, so they make them quit and then find a job or work at the farm with their parents, while some are forced to marry,” he said.
School authorities try to help the students cope with juggling their studies and family obligations, but most parents insist that their children stop attending class and perform physical labour because of the poverty they face, the official added.
When schools in Laos shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic, students assisted parents on farm works because they did not have access to the internet at home to continue their studies.
A child labour survey conducted in 2010 by the Lao government with support from the ILO found that 178,000 children — about 96,000 girls and 81,000 boys — were considered to be engaged in child labour in Laos, with two out of every three involved in hazardous work such as working on construction sites or in dangerous factories. (Source: RFA)