The International Day of Children’s Rights, celebrated each year on 20 November, represents an opportunity for reviewing the achievements in the protection of the young generation. The possible criticism made on this occasion usually refers to stimulating the existing efforts of the kind, not their absence and inexistence at state level. Unfortunately, Romania belongs to this last category, so the respective day of a sum-up reveals the dramas and tragedies of the young generation. As it is generally known, even the right to life, the first fundamental right of a human being, is contradicted in Romania by the fact that we have the highest percentage of child mortality in the EU and the general health condition is free falling.
On this very International Day, the Labour minister warned that the terrible poverty that affects more than half of Romania’s population leads to a painful increase of the number of malnourished children, with all the medical consequences of such a situation.
Another fundamental human right, the right to education, is undermined in Romania, where school abandonment exceeds 20 pc. In its turn, school abandonment generates a series of negative realities. A study recently made in Bucharest revealed that one in four teenagers smokes and 15 pc of them know from their own experience the meaning of drunkenness and drug consumption. As for drug consumption, it is also influenced by the fact that such pills, although labeled as “prohibited,” are available in some pharmacies.
All these causes, starting with poverty, worsen the relations between parents and children, resulting in mass abandonment either by parents, or by children. Some parents abandon their families in order to find a new job, most often abroad, because in Romania layoffs are more numerous by the day. Out of the approximately 8 million Romanians capable to work, only half still have a job, according to official figures. The others lost their jobs so long ago that they no longer collect unemployment benefits. With unemployment being calculated in Romania only based on the number of people who get this benefit, the official figures oscillates around 7-8 pc, although its actual proportion is much bigger. Hence the tragicomic joke of Romanians: “We live much better than next year.”
Because of all these reasons, illegal labour represents a plague close – in proportion – to corruption. And its seriousness is amplified by the fact that it specifically affects youths. Through the years, the governments of all colours believed that the plague of illegal labour can be curbed by lowering the global income tax. As long as employers are no longer forced to pay high taxes, finance officials believed that they would hire more people in legal conditions, leading to the disappearance of “shadow labour.” Especially as the measure would be beneficial to employees too, who would find themselves in better conditions with regard to seniority and retirement benefits.
Contrary to these expectations, illegal labour has not disappeared, but instead amplified to the present situation, when it also deeply affects minors. The illegal labour of minors has so diverse and well-masked forms that the issues which fall or not under the incidence of the law are hard to identify. For instance, in rural areas minors are often “employed” in agriculture, fruit and vine growing, and are sometimes paid “in kind,” so it is hard to verify the legality of such “employees.” In the urban environment, too, more and more minors work illegally, with apparently “innocent” jobs without criminal connotations, such as collecting scrap iron, washing the windshields of automobiles that are waiting at traffic lights, begging etc. In fact, most of these activities belong to the category of forced labour, the gravest form of illegal labour.
All these phenomena are widespread and can be easily noticed just by walking in the street, anytime, so their extent and seriousness are difficult to ascertain. The special organisations of authorities and of the civil society concur today in the conclusion that the number of youths involved in the most diverse forms of illegal labour has increased so much that calculating statistic figures is seldom possible. The main indicators of this social plague are best illustrated by school documents. Here, school abandonment – as we recalled earlier – reaches worrying proportions as early as in the primary school.
School abandonment is hard to avoid or counter because of the ever-increasing poverty. Even at home, children and pre-teens feel obliged to work alongside their families, as a condition of survival. Even if such situations cannot be always associated to illegal labour, they are still dangerous because they contribute to the expansion of illiteracy at a time when Romania – through the quality of its human resources – should “burn the stages” of its economic development, in order to narrow the gap separating it from the western countries of the EU.
Unfortunately, illegal labour also affects the graduates of high-schools and universities. As I revealed in my previous columns, there is an increase in the percentage of highly-educated jobless of ages between 18 and 35-40, which illustrates the fact that, in our country, employers prefer to hire less educated employees and avoid those with high qualification, in order to pay lower wages. This explains the low productiveness of labour in Romania, the priority of imports over exports and other such deficits, including the fact that only few university graduates can find jobs corresponding to the profile of their higher education. This forces them to take the few existing jobs that require a lower level of creativeness, which they treat as provisional situations and hope to find better positions. And thus the period of transitory work without legal forms gets extended.
The longer presence of such uncertainties amplifies the juvenile delinquency. In Romania, more and more children, most of them coming from disorganised families, are under police monitoring for their actions that are often irrational, instinctive. These antisocial actions often begin with the consumption of drugs. The organic link between delinquency and illiteracy is also visible in penitentiaries: only when they get here, 18-19 year old youths eventually learn to read, thanks to the courses which they are compelled to take while in detention. More about the causes, effects and social implications of juvenile delinquency in a future article.