Liberia, a country along the western coast of Africa, is Africa’s oldest republic and enjoyed relative stability until the civil war of 1989. This destructive civil war lasted from 1989 until 1997. Fighting, however, did not officially end until 2003. This war left the country without infrastructure and displaced approximately 300,000 people. Public services shut down and maternal and infant mortality rates increased, drastically affecting the number of people living in poverty. Below are the top 10 facts about child labor in Liberia everyone should know.
Top 10 Facts about Child Labor in Liberia:
- Approximately 16.6 percent of children in Liberia are employed. Of this 16.6 percent, 78.4 percent work in the agricultural field. Work in agriculture includes rubber and charcoal production and farming including the cocoa, cassava and coffee production. All of these industries are deemed hazardous by the U.S. Department of Labor.
- The minimum age for recruitment into the Armed Forces of Liberia is 18 years old. However, during the civil war and up until 2005, children were recruited to be a part of the army. In 2005, the Council on Foreign Relations estimated there were between 5,000 to 15,000 child soldiers in Liberia. During the civil war, former President Charles Taylor used children in his army who participated in rapes, murders, executions and dismemberments.
- Only 75.6 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 14 attend school. However, only 58.8 percent finish primary schooling. Longstanding consequences of the civil war and school closures during the 2015 Ebola outbreak have taken a toll on the Liberian education system. The cost of textbooks, uniforms and transportation all severely limit a child’s ability to attend school. Instead, children who do not attend school begin working.
- Children under the age of 15 are not legally allowed to work more than 2 hours of “light work” a day. Children under the age of 18 are not allowed to do hazardous work. However, a 2018 Human Rights Report from the U.S. State Department found that the Child Labor Commission did not enforce child labor laws effectively due to inadequate staffing and underfunding.
- The 2018 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report detailed the widespread child labor infractions found throughout every socio-economic sector of the country. In urban areas, children work as street vendors or tap rubber on private farms. Other children are involved in hazardous labor such as alluvial diamond and gold mining. Girls are also sent from their homes in rural areas to do domestic housework in the urban sector to raise money to send home to their families instead of receiving an education.
- Instate, the Liberian government-sponsors and participates in programs to eliminate and prevent child labor. For example, Winrock International donated $6.2 million to reduce child labor in the rubber sector. Through this program, 3,700 households were rewarded livelihood services, and 10,126 children were provided with education services.
- In July 2018, the Liberian government promised to eliminate child labor in Liberia by 2030. Through the Ministry of Labor, the country has stated that over 12 years they will take measures to eradicate forced labor, modern slavery and human trafficking. With the introduction of this plan, the country began a National Action Plan, demonstrating how they will address child labor and a Hazardous List, addressing which fields are not acceptable places for children.
- Only 25 percent of children are registered at childbirth, making their births unknown to the government. The lack of registration and identification documents makes children more susceptible to trafficking. Traffickers are often family members who promise poorer relatives a better life for their children. The children are often forced into street vending, domestic servitude or sex trafficking. In some poorer families, young girls are encouraged to participate in prostitution to supplement the family’s income.
- In June 2019, Verité, a nonprofit organization, partnered with Lawyers without Borders and Winrock International, to provide technical assistance to Liberia’s Ministry of Labor to reduce child labor. The CLEAR II project, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, aimed to improve the government’s response to labor, increase awareness of child labor and reduce the number of children exploited. The project held training sessions for government employees to improve their understanding of child labor and allow them to train other employees correctly.
- In 2019, the Liberian government investigated four traffickers, however, only one was prosecuted. This marks a decrease from the year before when the government investigated four traffickers and convicted all four. In a report, the U.S. Department of State stated that many officials did not consider internal trafficking, such as child domestic servitude, a crime but rather a community practice.
These top 10 facts about child labor in Liberia depict a country that is in need of humanitarian aid and more governmental funding. Child labor continues to be a problem in Liberia. However, the government is actively working to eradicate this problem and allow children the opportunity to get a formal education. Advocating for laws such as the Keeping Girls in School Act gives young girls the chance for a life without domestic servitude.
– Hayley Jellison