It is Work or Hunger: The Plight of Working Children

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated economic challenges children have been left even more vulnerable and further forced into child labour. In December of 2019, the novel corona virus, COVID-19 hit the world. It was the first of its kind to have such a far-reaching global impact since HIV/AIDS. We all watched the news that December and marvelled as China built a state-of-the-art medical facility in a matter of days to fight this vicious and deadly phenomenon. Little did we know that it was coming for us too. Nearly three years later COVID-19 seems to have made itself comfortable and is not going anywhere anytime soon. We must now live with it and figure out how to deal with the devastation that it has left especially amongst the most vulnerable children. As the world commemorates International Children’s Day on this 20th of November 2021, we consider the plight of working children and how COVID-19 has exacerbated their vulnerability.

What is child labour?

The traditional African parent will tell you that children should work so they learn how to be responsible and contribute to the family through household chores. Agreed. Child labour is defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as work that deprives children (any person under 18) of their childhood, their potential and dignity and that is harmful to their physical and/or mental development . This means that not all work done by children is classified as child labour but only if it interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school, obliging them to leave school prematurely or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work. Whether or not a particular form of work can be called “child labour” depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is performed and the objectives pursued by individual countries.

The many faces of child labour in Zimbabwe

Child labour is one of the biggest challenges in Africa, a grave child rights violation with far-reaching negative impacts on the lives of children as it undermines their future and throws them into a cycle of poverty. Zimbabwe is largely an informal market and this is good breeding ground for child labour practices. If you visit Mbare musika you will find children doing odd jobs. Before the banning of commuter omnibuses, children would act as conductors, “mahwindi””chiname”. Children manning vending stalls is not an uncommon sight. On the streets of Harare and many major towns, you will find children on their own or accompanying adult caregivers, approaching vehicles at the traffic lights and asking for assistance. Certain locations and border towns are known for having young boys and girls selling sex in exchange for money. In mining towns, you will find children working in the shafts looking for treasure. In some households you will find children doing domestic work as maids and in rural areas as cattle herders. However, the largest number of children in work is found in the agricultural sector – tobacco, sugar, tea plantations. It is made worse by the fact that many families survive on subsistence farming so at household level children are subjected to child labour. Remember, we are not referring to household chores or socialising activities but work that denies children a childhood, keeps them out of school and is harmful. Some households without capacity to hire external labour for their fields will use children. This is an age-old practice and the reason why some polygamist families existed back in the day. Families would have many children to increase the workforce in the field and that mindset still prevails in some communities in present day. This is simply an illustration that child labour exists and for various reasons.

Read the full article here (275KB PDF)

Source: Kudzai-Vimbiso Tseriwa

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