By CHRISTINE MWAABA
Children in Zambia continue to fall victim to child labour, a serious infringement on their rights.
They have continued to be engaged in various unsafe tasks because they constitute cheap a labour force.
15-year-old Ken Mpundu (not real name) from Kaoma District inWestern Province shared his story with this author, about how he was forced to start work at a very tender age.
Ken dropped out of school in Grade Nine due to financial challenges and started working on a tobacco farm in Kaoma to gain some income.
“When I started working at the farm, I was tasked to water the nurseries, cut logs and spray pesticides on the same nurseries, while also grading the tobacco,” he said.
The teenager said after he stopped working at the farm, he started cutting logs in the forest.
He recalled how some of his friends lost their lives or got injured while cutting and collecting logs in the forest.
“One day when we were working, some friends got injured. One of them died and the other one’s ear was cut, while the other one’s leg was broken because logs fell on him,” he said.
He explained that children are the ones who are mostly used in this kind of work because of cheap labour as compared to adults.
Ken said one of the woods which is on demand for its logs is the rosewood because it is hard and durable.
He said despite that the rosewood being difficult to cut, it is not very rewarding to deal in it as a commodity.
“Cutting one rose wood by a child costs K10 each and if this same wood was to be cut by an adult, it would cost about K45 to K50 per log,” he said.
Martha Kundwe (not real name) is another child labour victim who dropped out of school in grade 10 at Kaoma Secondary School due to financial constraints and got engaged in work to earn some income.
Martha resorted to fishing, collecting of mushrooms and caterpillars.
These are just some of the cases of children who have been engaged in work and have been denied rights to enjoy their childhood.
It is worth noting that the agricultural sector accounts for the largest share of child labourers at over ninety percent in Zambia, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has said.
According to the 2012 ILO study for child labour and modern slavery which includes human trafficking child labour remained primarily concentrated in agriculture.
This is based on data from the Zambia Labour Force Survey 2008 which indicates that 950,000 child labourers between the ages of 5-14 were engaged in the vice.
The ILO Global Estimates of Child Labour Results and Trends, 2012-2016 also noted that a number of children were trapped in child labour worldwide, with the largest proportion of children in hazardous work in the Sub-Saharan Africa.
ILO defines Child labour as any activity, economic or non-economic performed by a child, that is either too dangerous or hazardous or for which the child is too young to perform and that has the potential to negatively affect his/her health, education, moral and normal development.
ILO National Programes Coordinator for Achieving Reduction of child labour in Support of Education (ARISE) Chabala Mukatimui is on record having said the agricultural sector is the largest absorber of child labour at ninety two percent in Zambia.
She said other child labourers were absorbed in other sectors like the service sector, trading, domestic, quarrying and mining sectors among others.
“After comparing the percentage of child labourers in Zambia the percentage continues to remain relatively high,” Ms Mukatimui said.
Child labour had negative affects on children physically, mentally, socially and physiologically.
She said child labour was also frequently associated with educational marginalisation like child school dropouts and repetition of grades.
“Some of the child labourers are combining work with school a task which is not easy to balance as compared to those that are exclusively in school,” she said.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a total of 152 million children are victims of child labour worldwide.
Half of that number, 73 million children aged between 5 and 17 years, working hazardous child labour.
The ILO figures further show that the majority of child labourers in the whole world are in Africa, with the continent accounting for 72 million in child labour.
It is worth noting that Zambia has made a number of important legal and political commitments to combating child labour.
The Government signed the United Nation (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, ratified the ILO Convention number 138 minimum age admission to employment in 1976 and ILO Convention number 182 worst forms in 2002.
The Employment of Young Persons and Children Chapter 274 of the Laws of Zambia as amended by Act number 10 of the employment act code 2019 that prohibit the employment of young persons.
The country’s Sixth National Development Plan (SNDP) (2011-2015) and the National Employment and Labour Market Policy (2006) both call for the elimination of child labour.
While the follow-up Seven National Development Plan (7NDP) (2017-2021) emphasises elimination of gross human rights violations such as the worst forms for child labour.
Aside from this, Zambia also has in place the National Child Labour Policy, the National Employment and Labour Market Policy, the Child Welfare Policy and Youth Policy.
The policies proposes a number of measures aimed at stopping the child economic exploitation in Zambia and provides frame works for child labour programmes in the country.
Despite, all these important commitments child labour continues to remain respectively high in Zambia.
Zambia Labour Force Survey of 2008 indicated that 950, 000 children between the ages of five and 14 are forced to work in various labour intensive sectors, also reducing their time in school.
The survey also notes that many of these children work in hazardous conditions, experience health complications than non-working children.
Therefore as Zambia is celebrating this year’s World Day against Child Labour on June 12 under the theme: Children shouldn’t work in fields, but on dreams, is important that there is total elimination of child labour.
Child labour not only constitutes a serious violation of the rights of the children concerned, but also has clear broader consequences for national social development.
Children growing up compromised educationally and developmentally by early involvement in work will be in a poor position to contribute to Zambia’s growth as adults.