Is Child Labor Employed on Indonesian Oil Palm Plantations?

In recent years, the anti-palm oil NGO networks in Indonesia have often accused oil palm plantations of employing children (under 17 years old) and published photographs of children residing in oil palm plantations.

The allegations, along with the publication of the photos, are not only unreasonable but they also exploit children for the sake of justifying the purpose of the NGO itself. The allegations are really harassing children in Indonesia and, of course, also their parents.

The presence of children at a particular place does not necessarily mean the involvement of children in the activities in that place. If we see children at a shopping mall and we immediately allege the children to have involved in selling, of course, it is probably a mistake because most likely the children are with their parents shopping at the mall. The presence of children in certain places does not mean the involvement of children in activities in that place. If we look at the mall and we instantly accuse the kids of being involved in the mall. Similarly, the presence of children in oil palm plantations does not mean that they are working in oil palm plantations.

In rural areas, kinship between family members, including children is strong. People from the village can easily understand this. The participation of children in paddy fields or land with their parents is part of children’s socialization and parental protection mechanisms. Although children hold a hoe, it’s just a family education mechanism to help children understand family responsibilities.

The same thing happens to traders in small towns. Sometimes they bring their children to market because they can not be left alone at home, but again that does not mean children are employed as merchants.

At oil palm plantations, especially plantation companies, employing children is a law violation and is also very unlikely. The type of work at the oil palm plantation is beyond the ability of the children. Fresh fruit bunch harvesters, for example, require special training and it is also almost impossible for children to move heavy fruit bunches. In addition, the company’s corporate governance makes it impossible to use child labor because one of the requirements for the workforce in the company is for a worker to be an adult who has a resident identity card.

Then why are there photos of children at oil palm plantations? If the photos are not fake, it can be ascertained that those children joined their parents who happen to be employees on the oil palm plantation. Once again, it is part of parental protection, as well as for the education of the children on how their parents work. The parents take the children with them because nobody keeps them at home. If an NGO really finds a company deliberately employing children and proves this conclusively (e.g. the child is registered at the company and receives wages), the NGO should complain about it legally because it is unlawful. Based on the Child Protection Law, if the NGO knows and does not report it to law enforcement officers, it is a law violation.

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