New farmers exploit children

eft vspace=3 border=0>Harare – As standards of living in Zimbabwe continue to deteriorate, the use of child labour on farms has risen sharply, with over 10,000 children estimated to be working in the agricultural sector. Gertrude Hambira, secretary-general of the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), told IRIN that her association would seek the assistance of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to end child labour on farms.

She said children aged 16 years and under working on farms were regarded as child labourers. “We are finalising our reports, which we want to bring to the attention of UNICEF, so that they can intervene and protect the rights of children. Children should be in schools and not working on farms,” said Hambira.

“According to statistics, an average family needs Z$28 million a month to meet its basic requirements. However, our members are being paid Z$600,000 a month, which is only enough to buy a bar of soap and cooking oil. This has exposed children to abuse by commercial farmers, who are making them work on their farms in exchange for a free education on farm schools,” Hambira alleged. New farmers using child labourers in exchange for an education have dubbed the system ‘Learn as you earn’. Hambira added that because the wages of farm workers could not sustain their families, children were also being employed to supplement family incomes.

“In some instances we have cases of parents and their young children all working on the farm so that they can pool their earnings to buy food and other basic necessities,” she commented. Hambira said some of the children working on farms had been displaced by the government’s Operation Murambatsvina last year. “In addition, children are now dropping out of school because school fees are beyond their reach, as some government schools are charging fees of Z$400,000 a term,” she added.

Wellington Chibebe, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, warned that if the government did not stop child labour on farms, the union would take their case to the International Labour Organisation, a move that could result in a boycott of the country’s farm produce. “There are rampant cases of child labour on the farms – some of them owned by very senior government officials – and we have told the relevant authorities to intervene. We will not accept the abuse of children on the farms,” Chibebe stressed.

Davidson Mugabe, president of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, said the Learn as you Earn concept was beneficial to children. “The new farmers are doing a good job of ensuring that young children get an education – there is no sinister agenda.” However, Gift Muti, another senior union official, said the concept did more harm than good. “Children under that scheme have generally performed poorly in school because they … [are] too exhausted. As a result, most just [end up being] farm labourers like their parents.” – IRIN

Post published in: Opinions

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