Hope for child labourers

CHIREDZI- On arrival at Uswaushava Primary School- some 50 kilometres off the Chiredzi-Masvingo highway? the only way of telling that the place is a school is because of the small children running around the pole and dagga structures that have been serving as classrooms for the 600 pupils.

Inside the classrooms pupils sit on wooden poles while they write on books in their laps. As a result of these appalling learning conditions, pupils often drop out of school into child labour. Others have opted to take the dangerous route across the Limpopo where, instead of finding greener pastures, they face abuse and trafficking.

Orphaned 14-year-old Paul Mutendi (not real name), spent most of last year out of school after he ran from home with the hope of jumping the border to South Africa. My uncle told me he was going to find me a job in South Africa, so I took my friend along and we walked along the railway line until we reached Rutenga where we boarded a bus to the Beitbridge Border Post. However, I could not catch up with my uncle when he jumped the border, he narrated.

Stranded and desperate

Stranded and with empty pockets, hunger and no roof over his head, Paul ended up selling eggs in the densely populated border town. After failing to cross, I was all alone until a man came to me and told me he could take care of me if I agreed to sell eggs for him. I had no choice but to accept even though I was not going to get any monetary payment he said. Mutendi returned home after neighbours from the Uswaushava community identified him and forced him back home. But even though he is now living with another uncle, Paul is still not attending school regularly as his unemployed relative cannot afford school fees.

Rachel, who is supposed to be in form one, works in the sugar plantations for as little as US$15 a month as her paralyzed father can no longer afford to work for the family. It is estimated that a thousand children out of the 36000 population of Chiredzis Ward 16 are out of school. But thanks to efforts by The Coalition Against Child Labour in Zimbabwe (CACLAZ), an anti-child labour organisation, children will soon be returning to school under the organisations back to school programme.

Back to school

CACLAZ hopes to send 250 children back to school in the next two years. The organisations Co-ordinator, Pascal Masocha, said his organisation will set up two centres at two schools in Ward 16 to rehabilitate the targeted 250 child labourers.

The rehabilitation points, named incubation centres, are to be established with the help of the Uswaushava Community and will have special programmes and the basic learning resources aimed at capacitating former child labourers to get back into mainstream education. The concept of incubation centres was borrowed from India where a child rights organisation has taken about 600 000 child labourers into bridge schools where they have a special curriculum that will enable them to reintegrate into formal schools.

Since this is a new concept we are starting with 250 children for the next two years and, working will all the stakeholders we hope to broaden our approach after the first batch, said Masocha.

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