Malaysians may think of child labour as something that happens in other developing countries and in far off places, but the reality is that child labour remains a persistent issue today, both in this country and abroad.
Even though it doesn’t grace our national headlines as much, the reality is that there are children workers amongst us – in rural and urban settings. The details are meagre, undisclosed and sparse in the national database, yet we managed to piece together 10 important findings from case studies and research papers about the prevailing problem of child labour in Malaysia.
What constitutes child labour?
- The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines child labour as “any work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.”  This includes children working at home (i.e. working in farms) without being paid, children working in domestic services (i.e. as a maid) either full time or seasonally and outside of the family and their home in both unskilled and unskilled trades including begging, F&B.
2. In Eastern Asia and South-Eastern Asia, collectively there are 24.3 million children who are forced to work. Malaysia is a contributor to the alarming number of children mentioned.
3. An estimated 33,000 children are reported working in palm oil plantations in Malaysia. The number, however, was derived from an undisclosed report on a foreign news site. The latest data on child labour by the Department of Statistics Malaysia was 30 years ago stating that 39,746 children between the age of 10-14 years old are child labourers.
4. Reportedly, “employed” children are between the ages of 9 to 18 years old. There are, however, incidences of children as young as 5 years old who are working.
Loopholes in the law
5. The Education Act 1996 states that primary school education for children aged 7-12 years old is compulsory. However, this rule doesn’t apply to children from marginalised communities such as stateless, refugees and migrants who do not have access to formal education in Malaysia. While children from these marginalised communities attend alternative learning centres, the Act does not state that secondary school education is compulsory. As a result, children aged 13 years old and above may find themselves in the workforce.
6. The Children and Young Persons Act (Employment) Act 1966 states that no children under the age of 15 years old and young people under the age of 18 years old should be working. What is not anticipated, however, is that the informal sectors (odd jobs) such as car wash centres, stalls, night markets are unaccounted for. These places make for prime places to ‘hire’ child workers.
Is it safe for children to be working?
7. The consensus is no. Worldwide, work-related death toll among children amounted to 2.78 million people and 374 million injuries and illnesses were recorded. 63% of working children in a study conducted in Malaysia stated that they have been emotionally abused. 27% have been physically abused and 10% have reported being sexually abused .
But why are children still working?
8. Child workers often come from large families with 5-10 children in a household. With many mouths to feed in low-income families, the older siblings are responsible for the younger family members. This also includes contributing to monthly family expenses.
9. The lack of availability, accessibility and affordability of education could encourage families to encourage children to work. An increase of RM 1 in education cost is enough to result in children being taken out of school for lower-income families . Sometimes, the quality of education is just as important when it comes to alternative learning centres.
Are we faring well?
10. It is unlikely that child labour will be eradicated in Malaysia by 2025 due to a few reasons. One glaring issue is the lack of precise data on the prevalence of child labour in Malaysia that could make way for grassroots organisations to formulate interventions. At the same time, foreign reports on child labour in Malaysia are often marked as cultural differences.
Wiki Impact has published a series on child labour in Malaysia, an issue that lacks exposure in Malaysia. We have highlighted the reality of child labour in Malaysia. The stories from the ground, of child labourers in Malaysia and the scars they carry were compiled and better understanding on what is hindering Malaysia from eradicating child labour by 2025. For a thorough read on child labour in Malaysia – dive into our whitepaper.
Explore our sources:
- International Labour Office (ILO). (2017). Global Estimates of Child Labour: Results and Trends, 2012- 2016. Link
- UNICEF (2021). Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward. Link
- R.McDowell and M.Mason. (2020). Child labour in the palm oil industry is tied to many popular U.S. foods. CTV News. Link
- N. A. K. N. Mahmod, M. C. M. Salleh, A. A. Muhammad, A. Mohd. (2016). A Study on Child Labour as a Form of Child Abuse in Malaysia. Link.
- CommonLIII. (1996). Malaysian Legislation. Education Act 1996. Link
- MyLawyer.com.my. (2017). Children and Young Persons (Employment) Act 1966. Link
- L.Gutheil. (2019). Not Gone, But Forgotten. GFA World. Link
- S. M. Baqutayan, S. M. Bagotayan, H. H. Razak, B. B. A. N. Razak, F. A. A. B. Razak. (2020). Is Child Labor an Issue Today? Factors and Policy-Related. Link
- United Nations Human Rights Office Of The High Commisioner (2019). Statement by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, on his visit to Malaysia, 13-23 August 2019. Link
- UNICEF (2020). Situation Analysis of Women and Children in Malaysia. Link