Child labour — Where do we draw the line?

TATENDA Tasara (26) pounds a rock with a heavy hammer, while his legs act as a work bench.

BY SILENCE CHARUMBIRA

Those in the construction industry pay only $2 per wheelbarrow full of stones
Those in the construction industry pay only $2 per wheelbarrow full of stones

His only protection is a glove in his left hand, that feeds larger stones under the hammer. He is very alert, with his eyes moving from the debris, through his fingers to the hammer, to ensure the symmetry is not disturbed because one slip can mean danger.

Beside him, his four-year-old daughter appears to toy with a smaller hammer and alternates between it and shunting rocks to her father, while her mother takes a rest under one of the shades.

The Tasaras are one of the over 15 families who ply their trade at an open space across Simon Mazorodze Road from Boka Tobacco Auction Floors in Harare, where they obliviously work with their children — most of whom are of school-going age — depriving them of their right to education.

While their cases spring from a genuine desire for survival, desperately in need of the $2 per wheel-barrow earnings, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) says child labour in Zimbabwe, especially at family level, is grounded in tradition which says children have to assist parents in economic activities to fend for the family.

This form of child labour, the lawyers say, is difficult to detect and deal with, although laws have been passed to deal with child labour.

Section 81 (1) (e) of the Zimbabwean constitution guarantees the right of children to be protected from economic and sexual exploitation, from child labour and from maltreatment, neglect or any form of abuse.

Further, Section 81 (1) (f) guarantees the right of every child to education, but the question remains on where one draws the line.

Tasara is unemployed and fends for his family in that manner, realising an average of $300 per month. Although he claims his daughter is enrolled in pre-school, several others of her age are seen milling at their parents’ place of work daily because they cannot afford the fees.

“I do not like this any better than you. Look at my hands, they are all swollen. I do not have any protective clothing and I am at risk of illnesses. I used to run my own business making perimeter fences, but it went bust. I am a school dropout and there are no jobs, so tell me; what can I do?” he said with a frankness that sums up his situation.

That he is not fond of the job is clear; refusing to have pictures taken, together with several others who are worried about what people who read newspapers would think about them.

“People that read newspapers do not buy stones from us. They go to established companies,” interjects Fanuel Matururu who also works at the site.

Caleb Mutandwa, director of Justice for Children Trust, says child labour is one of the subjects that divide society as it is the “parents’ role to properly bring up their children,” which includes “preparing them for the future by introducing them to some form of work”.

He said the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child recognises that children have a responsibility to help their families, community and even country, which help may be physical.

“This help can be physical help. To us this essentially means a child can assist his or her parents in carrying out certain tasks. Work becomes child labour when it fulfils some of these conditions. It is child labour to subject a child to do tasks that are way beyond its physical capacity,” he said.

“It is child labour to subject a child to perform tasks that deprive him/her or affect his/her other rights. These rights include education and health. A child should not fail to attend school because they have to work. Child labour is outlawed by Section 81 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Labour Act and the Children’s Act.”

ZLHR cites the Children’s Act which “provides that if a child is not being taken care of by parents for example being physically, emotionally abused, the government through the Department of Social Welfare can arrange for the child to be taken away from the parents/guardian to someone else who looks after that child.

“Section 11 of the Labour Act prohibits child labour. The Education Act places an obligation on parents to ensure that children have access to basic education. At the international level, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, International Labour Organisation conventions and the African Charter on the Rights of the Child outlaws child labour.

“The Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare through the department of child welfare is responsible for ensuring that the rights of children are not being violated.”

ZLHR said the police also have a mandate to enforce laws against child labour, and the blame lied “with the parents for abusing children and the government for failing to take the necessary action”.

A survey by Vendors Initiative for Sustainable Transformation (Viset) revealed that while some parents and guardians professed ignorance over child rights, others had demonstrated awareness but stressed that they were victims of circumstances as these children had to work to supplement family income.

“Viset observed that the majority of parents or guardians are not privy to the laws of the country in respect of child labour in particular and the provisions on children’s rights in general. The research also concluded that juvenile vendors are heavily exposed and are victims of numerous abuses at the hands of other older and established vendors, municipal police and in some cases Zimbabwe Republic Police Officers,” part of the report said.

The research that targeted areas like Domboshava, Epworth, Mbudzi Round About, Mbare, Gweru, Ngundu, Beitbridge, Masvingo Central Business District and Mutare had a sample of 4 090 children.

At least 1 279 are not in school while 2 346 are female and a staggering 87 juvenile vendors between the ages of 12 and 14 are reportedly pregnant.

Mutandwa says the discussion on child labour should, however, include children who are forced to make a choice to work at the expense of their other rights because of their situation.

“Here we look at poverty as a major contributory factor to child labour. We cannot address child labour without looking at this driver. There is need to address the poverty situation prevailing at individual, family, community and national level,” he said.

“Duty bearers, such as the government, have to be accountable to their constitutional obligations relating to provision of social services such as children, health, and social welfare to children, particularly the orphans and vulnerable children.”

1 Comment

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