Human Rights

Child Lab(our): A Systematic Model for Addressing Child Labour


Our daughter became overexcited after receiving the first letter addressed in her name, an invitation to attend a school entrance examination. She has always wanted to receive a letter in the mailbox, considering the multitude of mail we receive in Bavaria. As parents, we started researching what the letter’s contents required of us and what to expect. In light of our daughter’s apprehension about her invitation and our obligations and responsibility as parents towards our daughter, I explore how this readiness for school/school entrance examinations for children could be transformed into a model for reflection and could be mirrored in a continuous quest for solutions for the protection and safeguarding children against child labour in Malawi. This shall be discussed following the components of the examination, which are health history, weight and height, hearing and vision, linguistic and motor development, and optional medical examination.

School Readiness Test (Schuluntersuchung)

According to the Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety (LGL), which is responsible for carrying out these examinations for children in readiness for school, the examination is essential in assisting children and parents in identifying health problems related to school attendance. The test helps identify visual, hearing and speech disorders. During the tests, particular attention is drawn to fine psychomotor skills as they are essential prerequisites for learning and writing.[1]

All children in Bavaria must attend the screening examination, but the school medical examinations are reserved for individual children based on the initial school entrance examination. In the screening examination, the LGL, through a paediatrician, carries out the session in a playful manner with the child and checks the health booklets and vaccination book. Where there are particular calls for concern, an optional school medical examination is discussed for further support.[2] All this ensures the child is ready to competently face their new challenge, primary schooling.

Lab-like Tests for Child Labour

The examination of the child takes delicate steps. These are interrelated and done in a manner that is so relaxed for the child but with particular attention to specific details. In the same vein, the exploration of child labour can be done through similar intricate steps. However, these might not be for individual children but for a community or, on a larger scale, a country. Just like these examinations, the lab-like test for child labour can look at the history of child labour, set standards for particular types of work for children, physical examination of the children involved in child labour, and offer workable solutions depending on the magnitude of child labour problems identified, which are explained below.

Mirroring Child Examination Model to Child Labour

Firstly, the child’s health history reveals the types of vaccinations the child has received, regular medical check-ups done and all information required from the child’s yellow health book. In the imagined lab for child labour, this would probably entail looking at how children in a particular society started being involved in child labour. For instance, it is reported that cases of child labour increased with the Industrial Revolution, as feeble hands were required to reach places which could not be accessible to adults.[3] Furthermore, history also indicates that some laws introduced in the 1920s in different African countries pushed for stringent regulations, such as involuntary apprenticeship and restricting the mobility of children so that they were involved in child labour on the colonisers’ farms.[4] By looking at such past events, one would, therefore, be able to determine what type of interventions need to be introduced or what social programmes should accompany economic development to reduce cases of child labour, just as the health history would point to what interventions need to be taken for the child to be ready for primary school.

The WHO Multicentre Growth Reference Study (MGRS) established standards that suggest that children from all countries can achieve their full growth potential when their nurturing follows health recommendations and care practices associated with health outcomes. These include the standard for measuring stunting, malnutrition, obesity or underweight.[5] Thus, children of a particular age are expected to be within a specific weight and height threshold, another component checked during this examination. Likewise, in terms of child labour, these can be mirrored in the categories of child labour as provided by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), where work is categorised in terms of age to be referred to as either light work or hazardous work.[6] Such categorisation allows us to differentiate between permissible forms of work and hazardous work and provides room for targeted interventions where flaws are identified.

Thirdly, the examination involves hearing and vision, which are specific characteristics of learning, to determine if the child has good vision, can hear correctly and if there is a need for any intervention. Children’s sight is measured to see if they can distinguish different shapes at a given distance. Mirroring this examination to child labour can probably involve community discussions and observation of children’s work in a particular society. Observing the children’s daily activities, where they are commonly found, and the things they do would provide an idea of whether they are involved in child labour and identify signs of distress and exploitation.

Linguistic and motor development is another examination component that involves tests of how the child coordinates their hands through writing and drawing specific shapes. It allows for assessing agility and coordination of the body and brain. In the school readiness examination, it is expected that children of a particular age should be able to pronounce some words and repeat some phrases and actions on instruction. An examination of child labour, in this case, might look at physical signs of stress and the abilities or lack of it in the child. This is based on the fact that children involved in child labour are prone to injures or have signs of physical stress due to work.[7] Thus, similar to motor and linguistic development, this examination in child labour might involve looking at how the children walk, talk and coordinate their actions. Children who are physically hurt will display signs of pain, deformity and even scars, which would inform areas of intervention.

By the end of this examination, the paediatrician recommends an optional medical examination when the test above has indicated some areas of intervention. For instance, when sight and hearing are not so good for effective participation in school, an optician test can be recommended. In case of motor and linguistic challenges, a physician or a speech therapist can be involved to help the child acquire the standards that will enhance their participation in school. These are remedial initiatives. In the case of child labour, as a complex problem, more players are needed to address the issue. In that case, after recognising that the problem is multisectoral and interdisciplinary, solutions might be sought from different players. For instance, when poverty seems to be the primary driving force rueing parents and children into child labour, poverty alleviation programmes can be introduced. On the other hand, if laws are not deterrent enough to stop people from involving children in child labour, more stringent rules and regulations can be put in place to address the problem through law effectively. It would also mean that communities will realise and notice child labour in the bud and they would subsequently find ways of addressing them with tailor made solutions. This shall ensure that the children grow up to be reliable citizens of the society whose challenges have been diagnosed early for redress by multiple players.


While the model suggested above might have challenges of adoption or directly reflecting the actions in addressing child labour, it provides an alternative to addressing or rethinking the problem. The borrowing of these components provides a starting point for looking at child labour from a more systematic perspective. By treating each child labour case with the same level of care and individualised attention, we can work toward a more effective and sustainable solution. Every case needs to be analysed on its merit, and solutions for redress be tailored to the context of the problem. In other words, each case of child labour needs to be subjected to a lab-like test, each community or family having their own, so that child labour is addressed.

[1] Das LGL ‘Die Schuleingangsuntersuchung in Bayern‘ <> accessed 09 February 2024.

[2] As above.

[3] Radfar, Amir, Seyed Ahmad Ahmadi Asgharzadeh, Fernando Quesada, and Irina Filipm ‘Challenges and perspectives of child labour’ (2018) 27 (1) Industrial psychiatry journal 17.

[4] Hepburn, S. and Jackson, A., ‘Colonial Exceptions: The International Labour Organization and Child Labour in British Africa, c. 1919–40’ (2022) 57 (2) Journal of Contemporary History 218-241.

[5] Garza, C. and de Onis, M., ‘Rationale for developing a new international growth reference’ (2004) 25(1_suppl_1) Food and nutrition bulletin S5,S11.

[6] Convention 138, art.  7.

[7] Clacherty, Glynis. Hard work, Long hours and little pay. (Plan Malawi, Clacherty & Associates Education &Social Development (Pty Ltd) Auckland Park South Africa, 2009) 29.


By Gift Gawanani Mauluka

Gift Gawanani Mauluka is a PhD candidate at the Chair for African Legal Studies at the University of Bayreuth.

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