Some 80 kilometres from the bright lights of the bustling Chiredzi town, off the main highway to Masvingo, lay the docile and rather concealed Ward 16 of rural Chiredzi.
Report by Tapiwa Zivira, Online Reporter
Tucked at the heart of the ward are two major primary schools, Masimbiti and Uswaushava, separated by about 20 kilometers of vast stretches of bare sun-baked land.
The two institutions are the major education centres for the villagers of the dry area where poor rains and water shortages are perennial.
When Newsday Online crew arrived at Masimbiti it was break time and hundreds of children- seemingly unbothered by the sweltering heat- could be seen playfully darting about the pole and dagga structures that serve as their classrooms.
Soon they would go back into class for another learning session.
It is here that orphaned Samson Mangwiro* (13) narrated how- two years ago- severe poverty and the need to supplement family income forced him out of school to embark on a trek to the supposed green pastures across the Limpopo, South Africa.
“I was only 11 and my grandmother guardian could not afford to pay my school fees so together with my three friends, we decided to walk to Rutenga to get a bus to the border post at Beitbridge,” he said.
The distance between Chiredzi town and Beitbridge is over 130 kilometres, as illustrated in the map above.
Determined to see the other side.
With the few dollars in their pockets and the help of maguma-guma, those who illegally assist border jumpers, Samson and his friends embarked on the journey across the border.
The four were so engrossed in their quest that they neglected to consider the possible risks like being abused, robbed, trafficked or at worst getting killed.
They however made it safely across, but it was not long before the realized the fields on the other side were not so green.
“When we arrived in Musina, we were bundled together with many other adults into a lorry by some South Africans who promised to give us jobs. The lorry took us to some farms around the Limpopo province where we ended up doing temporary jobs for very small wages,” said Samson, “ We would wake up at 3a.m to go out to seek work and it would not be until 8pm that we would lay down to sleep.”
“We worked hard, urged on by the fact that at the end of some time, we would get enough money to travel to the Johannesburg for better prospects. But as months dragged on, we were getting tired and the money we got was not enough for that”
Rejected, worn out and abused.
Stuck and relegated to destitution in foreign land, Samson and his friends finally decided to come back to Zimbabwe.
It was a long but worthwhile journey back to the old, dry and seemingly gloomy Ward 16 because the four came just in time for a back-to-school programme spearheaded by a local non-governmental organization, The Coalition Against Child Labour in Zimbabwe (Caclaz) in 2011.
Back to school, a time for hope.
The programme, currently in the final phase of the pilot stage, seeks to send 1000 former child-labourers back to school by 2014.
According to Caclaz National Co-ordinator- 350 children- including Samson and his 3 friends-have so far re-intergrated back into school.
“Right now we are working with Chiredzi Ward 16 as a pilot stage with a target of 1000 child labourers. After that we hope to roll out the project country wide using the model of creating child labour free zones”
The concept of forming child labour free zones was pioneered by an Indian organization, MV Foundation, which has since successfully reintegrated over a million school dropouts back into learning institutions.
India has one of the highest child labour prevalences.
MV Foundation set up bridge schools where child labourers would get exceptional lessons that would enable their reintegration into the mainstream school.
Zimbabwe and five other African countries- Uganda, Morocco, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia- are among the first to adopt the idea two years ago.
Caclaz- using the same concept- has, with the help of the community, government and other NGOs- created what they call ‘incubation centres’ at two primary schools in ward 16.
“These are rehabilitation hubs and child labourers identified for reintegration into school first receive a special syllabus that will enable them to reintegrate into formal schools,” said Masocha.
At a convention in Uganda last month representatives of NGOs, governments, the African Union and the European Union passed a declaration that endorses the creation of child labour free zones globally.
The delegates were drawn from 28 African and several other countries
According to Masocha, the declaration document entitled “Out of Work and Into School Working towards Child Labour Free Zones.” is expected to enhance global participation towards ending child labour.
Masocha says the declaration and the work his organisation and other stakeholders have done so far spell hope and good prospects for the elimination of child labour.
New constitution a window for hope
According to Maplecroft, a global risk analytics organization, Zimbabwe, is grouped together with conflict torn countries such as Sudan, Burma, and Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia as some of ‘the countries with the worst child labour problems.’
The latest figures from Zimbabwe’s Central Statistical Offices show that from 36 to 40 percent of children between 5 and 18 years are in child labour.
Most of the child labourers work in the agriculture and domestic work sectors.
The trade unions representing the two sectors have attributed poverty, HIV and Aids, poor enforcement mechanisms by government, and poverty wages 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 General Secretary of the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe, (Gapwuz) Gift Muti.
The current minimum wages for the agriculture and domestic sectors are $65 and $90 per month while the poverty datum line stands at $507.
“As the HIV and Aids scourge takes its toll, leaving children to head families, we estimate that 3 in every 10 domestic workers are children. Employers prefer children who they know cannot bargain for better wages,” said Helarious Ruyi, The Zimbabwe Domestic and Allied Workers Union (Zidawu), General Secretary.
Both Zidawu and Gapwuz are engaged in efforts to raise awareness and lobby government to ensure all children are in school through the strict enforcement flexible education policies and are hopeful that their efforts,combined together with those of other key stakeholders, will yield positive results in the future.
Zimbabwe is 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, the ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973-No. 138, 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 the children in relation to child labour is governed by the Children’s and the Labour Relations Acts.
Masocha believes the recent endorsement of the new constitution will positively affect lobby and advocacy against child labour as it declares anyone under the age of 18 a child.
“There have been problems as the different laws have been contradictory on the definition of a 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,” said Masocha.
When the new constitution is passed into law, all the acts will be harmonized to conform to the supreme law and it is likely that only children above 18 and not 15 will be allowed to engage in gainful employment.
With the participation of all the relevant stakeholders, Zimbabwe’s journey to eliminating child labour is definitely in the right path,” added Masocha.
*Name has been altered to protect the identity of the minor