PhD Graduate’s Research Shines a Spotlight on the Global Issue of Child Labour

Dr Rowena Bernard
Law academic, Dr Rowena Bernard.

The issue of child labour is a national, international and regional problem needing serious intervention. 

Hence, through PhD research, Law academic, Dr Rowena Bernard contributes knowledge on the controversial issue of children working under dangerous and hazardous conditions which affect their growth and development as well as their health and safety in Africa. 

‘Child labour is a pertinent issue which requires the creation of awareness because of the impact it has on the lives of children, hence her research focused on cross-border issues of child trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children within the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East Africa Community (EAC) and Southern African Development Community (SADC),’ said Bernard. 

The study titled: A Review of Existing COMESA, EAC and SADC Laws on Child Labour Against International Norms: Time for a New Harmonised Legal Framework of Child Labour, was co-supervised by Professor Ann Strode and Dr Clydenia Stevens of the School of Law. 

‘My research found that child labour in Africa has the highest incidence in the world and therefore requires better regulation and monitoring. The banning of child labour in Africa is currently not achievable given the socio-economic factors, cultural perspectives and beliefs about childhood and the role of the child,’ explained Bernard. 

She added that the study concluded that a specialised sub-regional institutional structure is needed to regulate and control child labour due to its complexities.

‘In order to support the argument for the regional regulation of child labour through legal harmonisation, the study identified and examined the laws on child labour in nine countries in these regions. Several issues and challenges were noted in the national laws of the member states. It was found that there are several benefits to the legal harmonisation of child labour laws: uniformity and certainty in the law which facilitates better regulation, consistency in the interpretation and application of the law, and sharing of resources and capacity development, to highlight a few. The study concludes that regional integration of child labour laws through legal harmonisation is currently a viable option for Africa.’ 

For Bernard, pursuing and obtaining this qualification has created several opportunities for her career development, including presenting at a webinar linked to the fifth Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour held in Durban from 15 – 20 May 2022. This presentation led to her being interviewed by eNCA, Newzroom Afrika, East Coast Radio and SAfm. In addition, she co-authored an article titled: Child Labour and Sexual Abuse in the Spotlight which was published in the Daily News and Cape Argus. Bernard also delivered a presentation to the School of Law’s Navi Pillay Research Interest Group on the situation with regard to Child Labour practices both internationally and nationally in the sub-Saharan region in June 2022 which prompted much discussion and concern about the fate of these children. 

Words: Thandiwe Jumo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan 

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