Source: Child labour within the home | The Herald 06 FEB, 2020
Monica Cheru Creative Editor
As expected of boys living in a community of many in a highly social society, this group of seven has found each other and identify as a group.
But unlike most other nine to 11-year-olds, what bonds them is something stronger than shared backgrounds, mores, pop culture tastes and the school they attend.
They are united by the need to earn a living. Their dogged steps as they head for rest and respite from the heavy burden of firewood on their heads tells a story of determination that a good number of adults would never be able to summon.
Take a pick of place to meet them and hear their story. Epworth, Hopley, Caledonia, all the places where most of the urban disadvantaged communities call home.
In Mabvuku, young hewers of wood can be seen at dusk on school days or during the day on weekends and holidays.
They get the firewood from Donny Brooke Racecourse and at times risk the Cleveland Shooting Range. The wood is for sale or own use as the cost of gas and electricity is beyond the reach of their families.
Child labourers can be seen begging in the streets with some dubious paper asking for donations for school fees.
They trawl the streets, usually after school hours, accosting any promising face. Make no mistake, that this is like middle class kids selling raffle tickets to raise money for some school project. This is a real job.
Or they are the tragic little vendor that you stop and buy from because you feel guilty for not doing something, anything to mitigate the obvious plight in your face.
Others are child-minders who must also cook and clean for their younger siblings.
Family child labour is also common in rural areas and on farms.
http://sheisafrica.eu/ says a Human Right Watch study established that many farmers used child labour in agriculture, either as unpaid family labourers or they come as unofficial workers to assist their parents who would have been contracted.
According to the World Bank, Zimbabwe poverty rates have increased over the past two years: “Extreme poverty is estimated to have risen from 29 percent in 2018 to 34 percent in 2019, an increase from 4,7 to 5,7 million people.”
Add the current drought and maize-meal shortages to the equation and the number of families and proportionately young people in dire circumstances must be increasing daily. Which means more and more children are being pushed into being labourers within the home.
These young breadwinners contribute an important portion to their family’s basic needs, including daily sustenance. Without their income, the families would be worse off.
We have wonderful laws in Zimbabwe concerning child labour, which effectively limit options of legal more lucrative and less strenuous work that these children can access outside their homes.
So, they are caught in the prison of family child labour.
Just passing through the education system
The child labourers in our society have to juggle education, play and earning. And in most circumstances, it is their education that suffers.
The schools they attend are not exactly well resourced and there are overcrowded classes where the teacher has no time or opportunity to attend to individual needs. The cycle of poverty and poor education is a globally documented phenomenon that very few argue against.
Despite all their grit and effort, it is likely that these children will never rise above the Poverty Datum Line.
Many of us like to pull out examples of people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds who have risen to the top when we give our little pep talks about how anyone can be anything and the only limit to your achievements is your vision, ambition and determination, blah blah.
But we conveniently forget that for that one shining light, there are millions who remain stuck in their dire circumstances. And that almost behind every successful story lies a benevolent benefactor who stepped in with practical assistance.
Figures say it is unlikely that many future presidents, captains of industry, successful entrepreneurs, inventors and innovators will ever come from these child labourers.
No matter their potential, without intervention most are doomed to remain the wretched of the earth.
Statistics show that this demographic group has the highest rate of school dropouts, unplanned parenthood — usually teen pregnancies, early marriages and the lowest access to basic welfare standards like education, health and balanced diets.
Struggling to meet higher demand of new curriculum
There was an outcry when the new education curriculum was introduced under former Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Professor Lazarus Dokora.
Even now, some parents express the opinion that it is too heavy a burden for the learners.
At primary school, the syllabus demands more parent/guardian involvement in the learning process as the learners have to go beyond classroom instruction and the boundaries of the textbook.
Parents and guardians are turning to the Internet and social media to be able to assist their children with homework.
UNESCO, in a document titled “Education and its Impact on Poverty: Equity or Exclusion?” says: “The World Summit for Social Development (WSSD) held in Copenhagen, 6-12 March, 1995, acknowledged the fundamental role of parents’ education, particularly that of mothers, in facilitating the struggle against the cycle of poverty and school failure, promoting social integration, particularly that of marginal and underprivileged groups, and increasing productive employment.”
Which leaves the child labourers at a distinct disadvantage.
Not only do they lack sufficient time to apply themselves to the homework tasks of the day, it is also likely that their parents have poorly educated themselves and are not in a position to assist.
With the expense of data, it is likely that the parents have limited access to social media platforms like WhatsApp groups or they may not even own smart gadgets.
The Government must act urgently
Only a strong social welfare net can give disadvantaged children a fair chance in life.
In previous articles, I have advocated the need to centralise and direct all funds from various charitable organisations and individuals for meaningful investment into social welfare rather than cosmetic social media photo ops.
Only the Government can coordinate efforts that make their life better through effective pro-poor policies.
The burden of school fees must be totally removed from such families. Education should be wholly free. With reduced costs, the need for the children to work is also reduced.
In addition, there should be stronger social peer supervision. Communities need to return to the place of hunhu/ubuntu where it took a village to raise a child.
Of course, uninformed and patronising interference in neighbours’ lives is not recommended.
But we should all be able to look out for the most vulnerable and make sure that they benefit from any poverty alleviation programmes in the area.
We need to do away with the mentality where everyone scrambles for aid and handouts, not caring about who needs it most.
As a society, we need to engender a cultural shift so that families stop seeing child labour as normal and acceptable. There should be a clear demarcation between age suitable chores and child labour.
Every child needs a chance to realise their true potential. And full access to education is one of the best ways to ensure that.