Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
July 4, 2005
Government short changes kids
Twelve year olds are children. This is a fact the Alberta government ought to ponder as it lifts regulations making it easier for the food service industry to hire 12 to 14 year olds.
The government says it is just getting rid of red tape by doing away with the permits previously required by food service businesses before they could hire youngsters. In 2004, the food service requested 550 government permits to hire children 14 and under. The number had been growing rapidly but, instead of questioning the practice of child labour, the government decided to make it easier by simply eliminating the permits.
Well, that certainly shows - in a conflict between child welfare and business interests -on whose side the government sits.
It is a sad irony that the most famous Canadian 12 year old of recent times was Craig Kielburger who came to public notice by organizing his friends to protest horrific child labour practices in Third World countries. Kielburger, now 21, may no longer need to look so far.
Why are more and more children being enlisted to work in the food services industry? Because adults will not work for the low wages and in the sometimes poor conditions provided in the industry. But some kids will. They don't see themselves as exploited workers and are happy to have spending money.
The Edmonton Journal interviewed one 15 year old who has already held four jobs. "Now I've got my own money," she said. "Got a job, got money and, you know, bought clothes. It's fun."
It is not being churlish to point out that child labour laws were meant to protect children and childhood. To erode that protection is a sign of a society that pays more heed to economic interests than to human dignity. The dignity of early teens is best protected by having them focus on school, help in the home and develop their personal interests.
While the government has regulations to protect the safety of children working in the food service industry, regulations are not worth much if they are not enforced.
How many child workers would risk their jobs to lodge a complaint about regulations being violated, regulations that government may someday decide are just more "red tape"?
No person needs to become totally integrated into the consumer society. Children in particular need to be protected from consumerism while they are still developing their own identity and finding their own direction in life.
Highly disconcerting is the fact that of all provinces, Alberta has the lowest percentage of Grade 12 graduates who go on to post-secondary education. This may be due, in part, to high tuition fees in Alberta colleges and universities. But tuition fees are high in other, less-prosperous provinces. A more likely explanation is that high-paying, low-skilled jobs are more abundant here, sucking high school graduates into the workforce when their long-term interests might be better served by continuing their education.
One would expect that children drawn into the workforce at age 12 would, by the time they finish high school (or, if they finish high school), be more inclined to seek full-time work than go on to post-secondary education. By allowing child labour, the government is only exacerbating an already serious problem.
The dignity of children is more and more being placed at risk by an adult society narrowly concerned with its own wants and desires.
Children need protection, not economic "opportunities."
The Alberta government should put high fences around the practice of child labour.
- Glen Argan
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