When they asked the little girl where her home was she replied - Where mother is

Let Children Be Children

Published: January 13, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a well known grocery store picking up a few items for dinner. As I was walking down one of the isles, a young boy passed me wearing a store name tag and uniform. The boy couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen years of age.

At first I thought I had been mistaken, but when I was in the vegetable isle, another boy around the same age passed by, and was wearing the same uniform. Perhaps it was a learning day for grade school?

But after looking around, I realized there wasn’t an adult in sight with them. Then it finally struck me – these boys are employees.

And so begs the question – what is heck is going on with our child labour laws?

After coming home and researching it, I discovered, much to my disappointment, that British Columbia’s Employment Standard’s Act states that children between the ages of twelve and fourteen can work as long as they have the written consent of a parent or guardian.

And it’s not just me who finds this disturbing – many Canadians are concerned with the safety of children on the job – and for very good reason. The Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board claims that more than 13,500 young workers were injured in 2003, and eight youths suffered workplace fatalities. In addition, a Statistics Canada report in 2000 showed a link between children working under the age of seventeen and dropping out of school.

Only five Canadian Provinces allow children to work under the age of fourteen – and British Columbia is one of them.

In Saskatchewan where I grew up – a child under the age of sixteen is not allowed to be employed. I remember being fifteen and desperately wanting to work for the Bay, but had to wait until I turned sixteen to work in their clothing department.

And to be honest, I was not mature enough to work with the public – no child is. Did I know anything about pant sizes, what clothes work well together, where to go to get hemming for a suit? Absolutely not.

I remember one woman coming out of a dressing room when I just started and asked me how her pants should hang. I had no idea what she was talking about – until an older cashier came in to the dressing room to assist me.

Now imagine if I was twelve being asked the same thing. Do we actually believe these children at the grocery store have any idea about price comparisons, which isle to find a product or have an opinion on expiry dates? What about handling an irate customer, a confused customer or even one that requires assistance?

The other day a young boy was packing our groceries. My husband watched as the child was advised that his finger needed to have a Band Aid on it. He had cut it somehow and was still trying to pack groceries. One of the other clerks told him that it was a requirement to have it covered. The boy was reluctant to do it, but finally went off to have one put on.

When my husband came home he relayed the incident to me. And as we began to unpack our bags, we found blood covering each one. When we called the store, they advised us they would speak to the boy….but is it the child’s fault?

We feel justified to complain about the human error that we encounter in our service industry because we are all adults. But to fault a child because he didn’t want to put a Band Aid on is something every parent can relate to. A child doesn’t know any better – but adults do.

Just because the BC Employment Standards Act has enabled children to work under the age of sixteen doesn’t mean employers should be doing it. The people I want to complain about are not the children who have been hired to work in these public places, but rather the employers, parents and the provincial government.

Children are children for such a short time. Parents - if you want to teach your child the meaning of responsibility – give them chores to do around the house, have them volunteer in the community, or even try a paper route. And employers – if you are trying to save money or to just simply fill a job, find another way to do it without using children.

It is abundantly clear that the BC Employment Standards Act needs to be reviewed again in our Province. To put children in the public domain to work a real job is just plain wrong.

They have the rest of their lives to work – we need to give them this time to be silly, to be able to play – in other words - to simply just be children.

Kelley Scarsbrook is a Stay at Home Mom who writes bi-weekly for Black Press. You can visit her websites at www.thestayathomemother.com and www.enterprisingmomsnetwork.com