If you walk along Harare CBD’s pavements, there is evidence of young children that are involved in some form of “employment” to supplement their family income.
Not far away, their mothers sit and watch them as they scurry up and down the busy streets either selling their wares or begging for money from motorists.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines child labour as work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally harmful to children and that interferes with their schooling.
Recently, Alpha Media Holdings (AMH), publishers of the Standard, Zimbabwe Independent and NewsDay, invited experts to tackle the matter at the AMH Conversations that was held at a venue in Avondale, Harare, where they expressed their views about this problem.
Participants were drawn from a wide spectrum of Zimbabwe society to discuss and highlight how best child labour can be curtailed.
This is happening at a time when Zimbabwe is signatory to a number of conventions that protect children from the harsh realities of life.
Some of the conventions include the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (commonly abbreviated as the CRC, CROC, or UNCRC) which is a human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children.
The Convention defines a child as any human being under the age of 18.
Juliet Sithole from the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ) said parents have taken children to work side by side with them in order to complete tasks given to them by farmers.
“These people cannot afford to take these children to school because their minimum wage is pegged at $72 a month and hence invite children to assist them complete tasks assigned by farmers,” she said.
Sithole said GAPWUZ is a watchdog that looks into the rights of workers and their children especially in the agricultural, agro, kapenta and tea plantations.
“Child labour is rampant in the agricultural sector where parents tag their children along to work although employers will argue that they do not employ children,” Sithole said.
She said GAPWUZ is a democratic labour movement that operates in all provinces of Zimbabwe and that one of its aims is monitoring child labour within its jurisdiction.
“Child labour has also taken a new dimension on the farms where you find farm workers’ children selling veggies and firewood along the main roads to supplement their parents’ income,” she said.
Raymond Majongwe, an official from the Coalition Against Child Labour in Zimbabwe (CACLAZ), added his voice to the discussion arguing that a child is a child regardless where they are located around the world.
“History has told us that child labour, in whatever form, does exist anywhere around the world including Zimbabwe. Child labour does not take them out of the vicious cycle of poverty; but this entrenches them in it and condemns them into perpetual suffering even if you send them to work for just two hours a day.
“We therefore cannot put lipstick on a frog to suit our situation because child labour in any form does not liberate that young person and the result is we will end up with a youth that does not value education. Don’t take the child anywhere else other than a classroom,” Majongwe said.
Another participant, John Mufukari, an executive director with the Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe (EMCOZ), said that child labour in Zimbabwe is something Zimbabwe cannot wash away.
He said research by the government revealed that there were at least 100 000 out of 1,3 million children who are under the age 15 that are involved in some activity to supplement family income.
“Let us not put a blanket about child labour as bad. We have examples of some people like the former Reserve Bank Governor who worked on a tea estate to realise an education,” Mufukari said.
He, however, said that child labour deprives children of their childhood and that it should be discouraged.
“We should not encourage it, but also acknowledge that it has done some significant good,” Mufukari said.
However, Majongwe interjected and said that the example Mufukari gave was bad as far as he was concerned and that there were a lot of lies associated with such testimonies.
“There are people who think that the law will address these problems. It doesn’t. You can have so many things written in a constitution, but are those issues being implemented?
“But the government can address these matters in the spirit they are doing with ZimAsset (Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation).
ZimAsset was crafted to achieve sustainable development and social equity anchored on indigenisation, empowerment and employment creation which will be largely propelled by the judicious exploitation of the country’s abundant human and natural resources
“We want all stakeholders to have a shared responsibility over these issues and not target certain institutions or individuals,” Majongwe said.
He gave an example of former Vice-President Dr Joice Mujuru who came from Mozambique with no qualifications, but because there was an enabling environment, she studied her way up to become one of Zimbabwe’s schooled politicians.
“The bridging scenario has been created to accommodate children who have never been to school so that they are not bullied. I am sure you have heard about the story of an 80-year-old man in Kenya who went back to school starting in Grade Three. Schoolchildren were told not to bully the old man because they were all there to learn. We can create an environment for such children and deal with their challenges and as a country.
“Once you set your targets, you can go to school and get the qualifications you want because there is an enabling environment for anyone to realise their vision,” Majongwe said.
A 2010 Unicef report noted that widespread poverty, a lack of social services and poor enforcement of legislation was hindering efforts to eradicate child labour in Zimbabwe.
The Labour Act prohibits employers from hiring a person under 18 to perform hazardous work and the Children’s Act makes it an offence to exploit children through employment and that no arrests related to child labour have been done.
“Child protection matters issues are not taken seriously and laws are silent on child labour. Birth certificates are so difficult to acquire as mothers are required to bring father of the child to be present.
“Because of this problem, schools do not register such children who are then left open to the vagaries of the world,” Majongwe noted.
Chairperson of the Council of Social Workers Phillip Bohwasi called for the amendment of the Children’s Act in order to strengthen it so that it effectively deals with issues affecting children.
“The Children’s Act should be looked into and have the children protected at all times. We need to focus more on the policy as the Children’s Act is not being implemented,” he said.
“It needs to be updated so that it is active and it is high time we took it seriously and protect the children.”
Bohwasi said child labour was one of the many forms of ill-treatment and exploitation facing children.
“Children are still in the formative stage, they should be assisted and not work for themselves,” Bohwasi said.
Coalition against Child Labour in Zimbabwe (CACLAZ) representative Raymond Majongwe said child labour does not take away the vicious cycle of poverty.
Unicef says of Zimbabwe’s 1,3 million orphans, some 100 000 are living on their own in child-headed households. Many such children are forced to leave school and find work as street vendors or labourers on tobacco farms, tea and sugar plantations, and in mines in order to support younger siblings.
The report said conditions for children working on farms as children are often exposed to bad weather, dangerous chemicals and the use of heavy machinery.
The report added that the incidence of child labour would continue to increase for as long as Zimbabwe’s socio-economic situation remains as it is.
“Let us concentrate on policy which the law says about ill-treatment of children and that law is very specific.
“Parents are the best custodians of these children, but because the economy is harsh on them, children find themselves in such conditions. The major constraint is the economy that is in doldrums.
“Parents are aware that child labour is not acceptable as it keeps children out of school, but for as long as there is no reliable source of income, it will be difficult to eradicate the problem,” one participant said.
AMH publisher Rita Chinyoka asked Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment deputy minister Mathias Tongofa what government was doing to address these issues.
Tongofa said the Stop Child Labour campaign should be sustained adding that the Labour Act also speaks to this problem.
“I am glad that we all agree that we have a problem and I think it is important as we go forward to ask ourselves as employers and individuals what our contribution is to eradicate and sustain the campaign.
“The government has a plan of action for orphans and vulnerable children and that speaks on issues of child labour. That programme also talks about taking children going back to school.
“We hope that the media will continuously be a partner in our efforts to stop child labour,” Tongofa said.
AMH Conversations raise awareness on various socio-
economic issues to ensure policymakers engage in those issues.
Statistics show that Zimbabwe is rated number six of the most at risk countries in as far as to Child Labour is concerned and hence the need for interventions by engaging various players to correct this anomaly.
The AMH Conversations was also attended by Netherlands Ambassador to Zimbabwe Gera Sneller and Brazilian Ambassador to Zimbabwe Marcia Maro DaSilva, officials from Hivos, an international development organisation working to contribute to a free, fair and sustainable world.
Also in attendance included officials from Women’s University in Africa; Save the Children, International Labour Organisations, and Council of Social Workers and some members of the general public.
There was interaction from social network enthusiasts particularly Twitter, whose comments were posted instantly on a screen.