Child labour robs youngsters of their future

When most children his age are at school, Prince Makoni (not his real name), 14, has family obligations that require him to help his father put food on the table. Makoni had to drop out of school in his fifth grade to become an airtime vendor to add to the meagre salary his father received as a church caretaker.

In a child labour free zone everyone is convinced that children belong in school and not in the workplace.
In a child labour free zone everyone is convinced that children belong in school and not in the workplace.

The youngster is seen every day at his usual spot, Gwinyiro Tuckshop in Area 13 of Dangamvura high density suburb, as early as 6am to catch the fattest worms. He knocks off at 15 hours later at 9pm.

The young lad, who should be enjoying his teens with children his age at school, has been forced to grow up fast as money has become his religion.

“Nhasi zvakabhadhara (business is good today),” or “Chikwereti hachiitiba boss, ndinonyura (I can’t give you airtime on credit, it’s bad for business),” are his common remarks. To him the daily hustle of selling airtime has become part of his life, where he doubles as a South Africa Rand coins money changer.

He has become so deeply entrenched in his chase for the next dollar that he rebukes his former schoolmate for wasting their time reading books. Little does Makoni realise that his future is going to waste and his childhood is being stolen away from him.

Child abuse

His case mirrors the new form of child abuse that has infiltrated the family chain as the economic meltdown continues to bite.

The latest figures from Zimbabwe’s Central Statistics Officers show that 36 to 40 percent of children aged between 5 and 18 years are in child labour. Most of them work in the agriculture and domestic work sectors.

Poverty, HIV and AIDS, poor enforcement mechanisms by government and poverty wages have been listed as the chief drivers of child labour.

“Prevalence is high in farming communities because of the poor wage structures where a family head cannot send children to school. The children will eventually drop out of school to work and supplement family income,” said Edwin Maropa, an activist on child labour related issues.

Worrying

Pascal Masocha, national coordinator of the Coalition Against Child Labour in Zimbabwe, said the rise in child labour was worrying.

“Owing to the decay in the educational system and the collapse of the economy, where many people lost their jobs and cannot afford to pay school fees for their children, the next destination for these children is child labour,” he said.

The current minimum wages for the agriculture and domestic sectors are $65 and $90 per month while the poverty datum line stands at $507. Most civil servants, general workers and some individuals in the middle class earn below the poverty datum line.

New Hope Foundation chairman Elfas Shangwa is on record acknowledging that child labour is driven by poverty. “Poverty is the main cause behind this prevalent practice of child labour at mines and in other sectors of the economy,” said Shangwa.

Edna Masanga, the executive director of the Girl Child Network said the trend had become acceptable in the country and society was to blame. She said the trend continued despite the fact that Zimbabwe was a signatory to various Labour Laws, many of which address child labour.

Rights of Children

Zimbabwe is a signatory to key international and regional instruments relating to the rights of children these include the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 and the ILO Minimum Age Convention.

It also signed the 1973-No. 139, and the Worst Forms of Child Labour, 199-No. 182 and the African Charter on the rights and Welfare of Children. Locally the welfare of children in relation to child labour is governed by the Children’s Charter Act and the Labour Relations Act.

But the two laws have problems as they are contradictory on the definition of child. The Labour Relations Act says anyone below the age of 15 can work while the Children’s Act says a person ceases to be a child at 18 years, though they address issues to do with child labour.

The Labour Act prohibits employers from hiring a person under 18 to perform hazardous work and the Children’s Charter Act makes it an offence to exploit children through employment.

However, owing to the HIV and AIDS pandemic and other drivers, the country has 1,3 million orphans while some 100,000 are living on their own in child headed households, thereby making them vulnerable to child labour.

Vulnerable

Many such children are forced to leave school by guardians and fund work as street vendors or labourers on tobacco farms, tea and sugar plantations, and in mines in order to support younger siblings.

“The HIV pandemic has actually contributed to the increase of children who are vulnerable. The orphans are left in the care of relatives who will not fend for them effectively. Normally they are denied basic rights such as proper food and education.

“They are forced to drop out of school and work to with money for bills and food. Some tend to run away from home and end up on the streets where they are again subjected to child labour in a bid to survive,” said Matsanga.

These factors have forced 13 percent of children in the country to engage in child labour, according to a report by UN Children’s Fund.

Solution

It is such alarming figures that have prompted several non-profit making organisations to move in and advocate for the rights of children against any forms of labour. CACLAZ has been advocating for what it termed Child Labour Free Zones (CFLZ) as the remedy to child labour related cases. Such zones are places where no child labour exists and where all children go to school.

“This could be a village or a plantation. In a child labour free zone everyone is convinced that children belong in school and not in the workplace. Everyone cooperates to completely eliminate child labour and get all children into school,” Masocha said. He added that they working towards the elimination of child labour in communities of the selected CLFZ. Masocha indicated the need to set up bridge schools to cater for children who might have undergone child labour.

“In CLFZ, no new school system is implemented, but the entire community is being involved in improving the existing education system. For children who have never attended school, so-called ‘bridge schools’ have been set up, where children can be prepared for the regular education system,” he said.

Masocha indicated that they have teamed up with partner organisations, which support the influx of new students and provides additional teachers and help parents understand how they can make a living without the work of their child.

“They also follow former child workers to ensure, together with parents and teachers, that they finish school. The aim is to get parents, children employers, teachers, unions and the government to change their attitude so that the rights of all children are fulfilled,” he said.

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