Childhood is the most important stage in a human’s life. Article 9 of the Kuwaiti constitution affirms that “the family is the base of society in which motherhood and childhood are protected”. In 1991, Kuwait ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in 2015, Kuwait issued a children’s rights law.
Children’s rights have been neglected for years, but today they are governed by child protection laws. Although the law is not ideal, it is a step we need as a society. I recently read that the Municipality and the Public Authority for Manpower are currently carrying out extensive campaigns to prosecute child laborers, who are under the legal employment age, for working in shops and commercial companies in violation of the labor law.
Child labor is not widespread in Kuwait, and where it exists, it’s due to the malpractices of parents, who push their children to the streets for quick profits without regard to the potential risks of exposure to physical and psychological exploitation. But the good news now is that Kuwait has passed a law for the protection of the child. This law has put an end to exploitation of children by business owners and traders. The law eliminates such practices by criminalizing abuse of a child in any form.
The executive regulation of Kuwait’s child rights law no. 21 of 2015 stipulates that child labor should be prohibited in 22 occupations and industries to avoid endangering the health or morals of the child. The law was based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including tightening of penalties against abusers for denying the constitutional rights of children. It is indeed regrettable that some expat families and bedoons in Kuwait push their children to work due to the need for money, and ignore the fact that children can face great risks on the streets.
Reports in the past have shown that these children lack educational resources and adequate healthcare as well as proper housing, and therefore become easy targets for drug dealers or commit thefts and other crimes. Enforcement of the new law is required for them and their families too. We as media persons need to warn against the phenomenon of child labor and action by the ministries of interior and social affairs is needed to contain the dangers facing children. Unfortunately, the phenomenon of child labor is not new, and can affect their mental and physical development.
We also need to conduct ongoing inspections to eliminate child labor and ensure that no workers under the legal age are allowed to work, in accordance with the international labor law. An absence of legislation gave some people the chance to employ child labor, and this is what happened in the past before the enactment of the law that criminalizes child labor. The best means for the elimination of this phenomenon lies in the implementation of penalties against parents and employers and studying the cases of these families and helping them if they are facing difficult financial conditions.
The law in Kuwait is not perfect and there are some paradoxes, such as the juvenile act no. 111 of 2015 that stipulates reducing the age of juvenile offenders to 16 years. This came after the enactment of the child law, which defined a child as a person who does not exceed 18 years of age! This mistake was corrected in March by the National Assembly and the age of juvenile offenders was raised to 18 years again.
Another example is the personal status law no. 51 of 1984, which prohibits the marriage or certificating a marriage contract unless the female is 15 years old and the male is 17 years old. But in this case, both parties are children, because they are under 18 years of age. I believe it is better to prevent marriage of children and raise the age of marriage to 18 if not 21 years to protect these children and reduce the rate of divorce.
We need to understand here that the policy of protecting children up to the age of 18 years is the basis of all legislation that aim at protecting them from possible harm, either deliberately or unintentionally, so all domestic laws must conform with international agreements. Therefore, periodic review of the law is a must to immunize the risk against childhood from any possible dangers.
By Muna Al-Fuzai