A FATHER believes that employing his 11-year-old son in a garage is not child labour because it is what the youngster wants.
Dad Nirbhay Chand began employing his son Amendra in the garage he operates at Laucala Beach Estate in Nasinu after the youngster completed Class Six.
Amendra now works in his father's automotive garage and said he was happy to start work at his age.
Amendra told his dad he wanted to quit school and learn a trade which he wanted to master and formally qualify in. Mr Chand said he was initially not happy and tried his best to persuade Amendra to return to school.
"Even though I knew my son was not good at school work, I still wanted him to have an education because I didn't want him to work in a garage,'' he said.
"But he didn't agree and said he wanted to learn the trade at the garage and so I agreed. "I have had people who came from organisations which lobby for children's welfare for me to send my son to school and have told me that I was encouraging child labour.
"But I don't see this as child labour because my son is good at what he does and he has a future in this."
He said Amendra was very good at mechanical work and he wanted to eventually be accredited at the Training and Productivity Authority of Fiji three years from now.
However, Save the Children Fiji manager Irshad Ali disagreed with the explanation given by Mr Chand.
Mr Ali said it was the responsibility of any parent to see that his or her child attended school and had a good education, which was their legal right.
He said saying a child was not good at schoolwork was not justifiable.
"It is also a problem with our education system because there are no means to track students and monitor whether they are getting an education," he said.
Mr Ali said it was time to look seriously at the legislation to enforce compulsory education so all children get an education.
The Fund this week released a report where it stated poverty as the main cause for forcing children into child labour.
Interim Minister for Labour Bernadette Rounds-Ganilau said the Employment Act restricted the employment of children under the age of 12 years in any undertaking whatsoever.
But Ms Rounds-Ganilau said a child between the ages of 12-16 could be employed in undertakings which were not dangerous, as in family run farm or business, but which restricted working hours of six hours in a day with 30 minutes rest at every two hours. "This is the present Act,'' she said.
"However, the Employment Relations Act increases the employable age of a child to 15 years for gainful employment in any undertaking.
"This Act continues to place some restrictions on the total hours that a child could work per day which is designed to protect the health of the child below 15 years of age."
She said it must be understood that a child is required to be at school during this tender age where the government provided free education.
"I believe that there was a private study made in the late 90's on working children in Suva only but to date there is no credible data on child labour in the country,'' she said.
"I'm really thankful to Save the Children Fiji for the study and providing the data for child labour in Fiji.
"Fundraising is about to start to support the commissioning of a study to estimate the prevalence of child labour in Fiji's urban and peri urban areas."