Africa has the largest number of child labourers; 72.1 million African children are estimated to be in child labour and 31.5 million in hazardous work (ILO 2016). The age profile of child labour in Africa is much “younger” than elsewhere. 59 percent of all those in child labour are in the 5–11 years age bracket, 26 per cent are aged 12–14 years and 15 per cent fall into the 15–17 years age range. Other continents have improved in the eradication of child labour. However it seems that Africa has stalled in this effort.
Child labour definition
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines child labour as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity. It refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling.
The economic breakdown of Zimbabwe has left children extremely vulnerable. In 2011, nearly three-quarters of the population lived below the national poverty line. This is compounded by rapid spread of HIV & AIDS that left millions children orphaned. There are approximately 1.3 million orphans. 100,000 of the orphans are living on their own in child-headed households. Many children have resorted to work to pay for school fees. Others have dropped out of school and work to support the household. According to a 2010 UNICEF report 13 percent of Zimbabwean children (between 5-14 years old) are engaged in child labour. Despite various labour laws that forbid child labour, there is virtually no enforcement. Child labour in Zimbabwe is particularly rife in agriculture and sex industry.
Agriculture accounts for 85 percent of all child labour in Africa. 8.1 million (11 per cent) are found in the services sector and 2.7 million (4 per cent) are found in industry. Tobacco farming is the pillar of the Zimbabwean economy. Tobacco is the largest foreign currency earner after gold. Last year the country realised $900m from tobacco exports, mainly to China and Indonesia.
Within this sector, many Zimbabwean children are exploited as labourers. The work is often unpaid and children work in hazardous and unhealthy environments. Child workers are exposed to nicotine and toxic pesticides, and many suffer symptoms consistent with nicotine poisoning from handling tobacco leaves. Although there is no comprehensive estimate on the actual number of child exploited in the industry, Human Right Watch conducted a study. More than half of the 64 small-scale farmers interviewed for this report said that children under 18 worked on their tobacco farms—either their own children or family members, or children they hired to work on their farms. About half of the hired adult tobacco workers we interviewed said children under 18 worked with them, either also as hired workers, or informally assisting their parents, who were hired workers.
One of the most hazardous forms of child labour is commercial sexual exploitation. Underage girls involved in commercial sex work are less able to negotiate safe sex, more likely to have higher risk sexual partners, and less likely to use available health services compared to older sex workers. Many girls in informal settlements drop of school and support their household through commercial sex work. As they cannot negotiate safe sex they often fall pregnant and contract HIV and STDs. The extent of child prostitution in Zimbabwe is still unknown due to lack of empirical evidence. However there have been news reports of girls as young as 9 years selling sex for as little as 50 cents.
The trafficking of children from one area to another, particularly to border towns such as Beitbridge, Plumtree or Chirundu Boarder Posts where long-distance truck drivers normally camp for days while clearing their loads, is very common because of the lucrative sex business with long-distance truck drivers. Human trafficking adds another dimension of safety concerns for child labourers.
Children are more acutely affected by poverty than adults because of their vulnerability due to age and dependency. 78 percent of Zimbabwe’s children are living in consumption poverty (extremely poor and poor). A combination of poverty, HIV/AIDS pandemic and breakdown of the social welfare system has hindered progress in the fight against child labour in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has enacted laws outlawing child labour and ratified numerous treaties that safeguard the rights of women and children. However lack of adequate financing and implementation of the laws have left children heavily exposed to exploitation in the labour market. Zimbabwe must urgently address child poverty by addressing the need for an inclusive, job-creating and sound economy. Second Zimbabwe must realise access to education and social protection programmes. Third the country must immediately focus on the implementation of laws that protect children. NGOs and faith-based organisations require more funding, as they are critical actors in ending child labour. Child labourers face serious short and long-term psychological, emotional and physical injuries. Children’s dignity, development and rights must be prioritised. They are our future and must be protected at all costs.
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