How it came about and what is its nature?
On account of various factors relating to the socio-economic conditions that were prevalent, child labor became a part of the everyday life of children in Haiti. Haiti’s population in 2011 was over 9.7 million and nearly 80% of the population in lived below the poverty line. The earthquake of 2010 also caused great losses leading to a major setback to the economy of Haiti. An estimated 21% of Haitian children work, but the number of children working in urban child labor in unknown. The children who were engaged in child labor ranged between 8 to 17 years.
A survey was conducted by ICF International for the purpose of understanding the causes for child labor, work nature and conditions, lives of these children outside of work, their perceptions of the situation and the policies that exist to protect them. Various people from Haiti were interviewed for the purpose of this study. The interviewees were classified as formal experts, informal experts, working children and the family members of the child laborers. These people, being involved and having constant exposure to the matter, would provide relevant information for the study and it would be based on the actual conditions that existed.
An understanding of how and why the children in Haiti began non-domestic work, as per the study undertaken is highlighted below.
What caused this situation of widespread child labor?
There were many reasons for the children in Haiti to start working. Most of these reasons pertained to their poverty and economic conditions. The children in Haiti started to work on account of situations that necessitated their income such as the death of an adult in the household, to support their homes in cases where their parents were unemployed/ unable to provide or were sick or situations where their moms had been abandoned. Some children also worked in order t0 meet their personal needs, to enjoy street entertainments or to be free from their parents and have their own income source.
Did the 2010 earthquake contribute to this situation?
The 2010 earthquake was one of the major causes that led to an increase in number of child laborers on account of the tremendous amount of losses that it had caused. Around 1/10th of the working children began working either because a family member was injured or was killed or the family had lost huge amounts of their resources. A few governmental sources had shown that the number of orphaned children working on the streets had increased since the earthquake. Also, the studies performed showed that the nature and type of work of the children did not change much post the earthquake.
How were the children introduced to work?
As indicated in the surveys, it was mostly the child’s own idea to begin working to learn and in cases where the family couldn’t provide for certain things the child wanted. Many children also said that they were influenced by other working children to begin working. They saw that the other children were gaining from working and wanted to have those gains as well.
Several parents explained that they wanted their children to work to learn important life skills and to develop a career, which the children also agreed to.
There was only one remote instance where a parent said that it was his spouse’s idea and where the child did not want to work.
Most children gained work either through their peers, family members or family friends.
Were there any instances of forced labor or trafficking?
A review of the literature had suggested that forced labor outside of domestic services was very uncommon in Haiti. In domestic services, however, forced labor and trafficking of children was widespread.
For obtaining a deeper understanding of the situation to non-domestic labor, the survey indicated the following:
- Most children worked close to their homes. The children generally arrived to work on their own and in some cases, accompanied by a family member or friend. Most family members also said that their child worked alone and in a few cases they worked for a boss, who was a mechanic or public transport drivers. Though these conditions did not indicate any involvement of forced labor, there were some statements from the children that could indicate the involvement. There were several children who said that at the end of the day they had to share their profits with their aunts. It is however uncertain if they meant with their family, as they sometimes referred to their employers as their aunts.
- When asked about the ability to stop working when they wanted to the responses were varied. Family member and children had a similar stand in relation to this. Some said that they could stop working when they wanted to stop. Most responses indicated that on account of their economic conditions and to avail the basic necessities to live, they needed to continue to work. This indicated that despite their ability to leave work when they wanted to, their conditions forced these children to work in order to survive and support their families and themselves.
- Some children felt the pressure to work because of their peers who were working and the poverty conditions that existed and believed that they would have to turn to their peers for basic needs such as food and would have to face disrespect and inhumane treatment, and as such had to work for their self-respect and to survive. Some children were also of a view that they had to work in order to not turn to stealing from others for self support.
From these indications we could infer that in some cases the children on the streets worked unwillingly, however the extent to which they did is not known. Further, none of the responses indicated that the children had been relocated to Port-au-Prince with the intention of being exploited.
Were the market demands such that the children needed to work?
There were no strong evidences to suggest that the market demands created forces for the children to need to work. Most of the work that was performed by the children was also performed by able bodied adults in the same measure. There was an exception of begging and washing cars. However, there were many adult beggars in Port-au-Prince who were disabled or elderly. Hence, it shows that the markets forces did not require the children to work.
Children in poverty would seek for opportunities to earn money, even if it meant working long hours for less pay.
An understanding of the nature of work that these children perform, their work life and income scale, and the risks they face are highlighted below.
Is there any organisational work done by these children?
These children normally work on their own, and only in a few cases work with a friend or for a boss. Generally, work such as washing or wiping cars are performed with friends. Transportation work is performed for drivers. In some cases, the sale of merchandise is performed for another person where the child is provided with the necessary resources and is to return the unsold materials and money to their employer. In these cases they work for a wage.
There has been no case where a child has been hired by any organisation. At the maximum they have been hired by a single individual.
What kind of work do they perform?
The children were mainly involved in the following:
- Petty trading – This includes activities of reselling clothes, small amounts of food, cell phone credits and beverages. The easiest entry into the market was through selling water as the cost of the bags was lower as compared to bottles for soda or juice.
- Cleaning – This includes washing or wiping cars, washing utensils or cleaning cooking tools and shining shoes.
- Transportation jobs – These include transportation of passengers as well as goods. In the passenger transport industry, due to heavy competition, the children are employed to collect passengers for a certain vehicle. They also assist passengers to load and unload their belongings. In the goods transport industry, the children load products into trucks helping in transporting them from one location to another. A few children also drive motorcycle taxis and perform tire repairs.
- Begging – Many children work as beggars and this is usually combined with wiping cars.
A lot of children also performed multiple types of work in the course of one day.
What kind of income do these children make for the long duration of working hours?
The income from the work varied on a daily basis. There was no fixed income generation. There were a number of children who reported that they were not paid for the work at all. However in the case of wiping cars, the children often begin wiping without prior permission of the owners and as such are not paid.
Children reported their earnings being 50 to 500 gourdes per day (US $ 1.20 to $12). These were generally on their good days. There were days where they made no money at all. Further, they mentioned how the returns depended on the nature of work they performed. Their family members however, were mostly unsure of what the children made, but were aware of the varying nature of their income. The range provided by them was however between 20 to 1000 gourdes per day (US $ 1.50 to $24) with a median income of 100 gourdes (US $2.40).
Most reports suggested that the children kept the entire income they made and used it for purchasing food, paying for school, purchasing clothing, paying the rent, etc. Some children used the money for entertainment purposes in gambling, video games or rented bicycles. A few also saved the money for days in the future when they might require it.
Some reports also mentioned that the children gave a part or the entire money to a relative or family member.
To further emphasize the conditions faced by these children, they often worked for long hours for this minimal pay or even no pay at all.
What are the risks that these children face on their work days?
The children face a great deal of exertion as they worked for really long hours ranging between 8-16 hours in a day and usually work 6-7 days in a week. In addition there are some children who live in the rural areas around Port-au-Prince and they commute to work on foot, adding more hours to their working day. Such working hours lead to a rise in health risks, stress and exhaustion among these children.
In addition to the long hours these children face numerous other risks on a daily basis. A few of these risks are highlighted below:
- Children work on the streets and have to walk through the traffic making them victims of accidents that take place and exposing them to the high level of pollution caused by the vehicles.
- The children working on buses and trucks are in constant exposure to dust and exhaust.
- The children working for goods transport often lift objects that are too heavy for their physical built and development and are subject to severe injury and health hazards.
- Most of these children do not possess the resources to afford proper footwear and generally wear just sandals and as such have no protection from sharp objects found on the roads and are subject to injury on the streets.
- They are exposed to the sun for long hours without any proper means of obtaining shade or even long sleeved clothes to protect their skin from the harmful damage that occurs.
- Some children have also reported about being robbed of money or their merchandise and beaten up in the process of the robbery and some children have also been beaten up in the course of their work by either a competitor or the owner, say while attempting to wipe their car.
- Children working for mechanics have also faced a lot of injuries that they have sustained from loose and falling parts of cars.
- Some children who were made to search for metals in the sewers were not provided with any kind of protection from diseases that they could counter.
These children have sustained severe injuries in the past in the course of their work, while tripping when running away from municipal authorities, severe scrapes from falls or by being hit by moving cars.
These children are posed with many threats to their health and living. They deal with situations where they are beaten up and robbed and are also exposed to various diseases, injuries and hazards in their work duration.
The study has shown that these children work in extremely unfavourable conditions and for a very low pay scale. At a very young age, they are exposed to harsh conditions and ill treatment that could greatly affect their perceptions and who they become when growing up. They are also, constantly exposed to irreversible health risks that could affect their life and the lives of their families to a great extent.
Written by: Varsha Gupta for Ayiti Now Corp