HCM CITY Harsher punishments should be meted out to those who exploit children, according to Le Thi Xuan Lang, deputy chief inspector of HCM City s Department of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (DoLISA).
Lang said the current fine levels were woefully inadequate to deter child exploitation.
Parents who forced their children to do excessive work or work that could be harmful to their health face fines ranging from VND500,000 (US$27) to VND1 million ($54). They would face fines of VND1-5 million ($54-270) if they exposed their children to physical abuse or harmful substances.
Lang said fines should be three or four times higher than the current levels and jail terms imposed for the most serious offences.
The number of underage children working to earn money for their families is increasing and it is traditional in remote areas for parents to send their children out to work.
Lang attributed the problem to poverty and lack of knowledge, adding that homeless children were most at risk of maltreatment.
According to an inspection conducted by DoLISA from March to July this year in 24 communes and districts in HCM City, 62 out of 173 inspected production units were using child labour, most of whom came from Tan Binh and Binh Tan districts. A garment maker in Tan Phu District forced children to do tailoring work from 6.30am until midnight with less than one-hour break in the afternoon.
Moreover, the 30sq.m room where 13 children worked and slept had no windows. The lighting system was also bad, making operating sewing machines hazardous.
Nguyen Mai Oanh from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said it was high time the authorities cracked down on the exploitation of children.
Laws on child protection, according to Lang, should be more specific to the many hundreds of ways companies get round the child-protection law.
"When inspected, most firm owners claimed that they were employing their relatives children because their families had knowingly sent them to work. Few possessed ID cards, which meant inspectors found it hard to determine if the children were of working age," she said.
Over 96 per cent of the children were employed by word of mouth without official documentation. DoLISA also found that those that had filed applications forms had had them filled in by relatives.
Lang said the minimum working age should be raised from 15 to 16 and that children should not have to work more than seven hours a day.
"Many employers are making use of the regulation to abuse children who are not strong enough to do the work," Lang said.
Over 75 per cent of employees working in craft workshops, or as mechanics and domestics are children. 47.6 per cent of these are aged 13 to 15, while 4.7 per cent are under 13, according to figures provided by DoLISA inspectors.
Lang said there were too few inspectors to monitor child exploitation.
"It is common to have just one official managing family planning, demographics and children s rights in many districts nowadays," she said.
According to DoLISA s last inspection, 69.4 per cent of firms failed to have business licences, 85.5 per cent had no records of the number of employees they had and 98.8 per cent had no social insurance.
Lang said the department would conduct more spot checks on firms and punish those that infringed the child-protection law. VNS