Child labour thrives in farms?

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Emmanuel Kafe: Extra reporter

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With the rain season in full swing, there is an abrupt increase in farming activities in the commercial and small scale farms around the country. This demands an increased workforce.In addressing this, The Sunday Mail Extra has established that some farmers are enlisting the services of young children and committing grave crimes against their rights as enshrined in the supreme law of the land and other international statutes.

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This is a form of child labour which is defined by the International Labour Organisation as work that jeopardizes the physical, mental or moral well-being of a child either because of its nature or because of the conditions in which it is carried out is known as hazardous work.

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Coalition Against Child Labour in Zimbabwe (CACLAZ) defines child labour as work performed by a child that is likely to interfere with his or her right to education, or to be harmful to their health, physical, mental, moral and social development.

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They also define child labour in terms of age as work done by children under the age of 15 and dangerous work done by children under the age of 18.

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Advocate Arthur Marara said there is protection against child labour in terms of section 81 (1) (e) of the constitution which provides that children should be protected from economic and sexual exploitation, from child labour and from maltreatment, neglect or any form of abuse.

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National Coordinator for Coalition Against Child Labour in Zimbabwe (CACLAZ) Mr Pascal Masocha said it is important to distinguish between child labour and child work before we dig deep in the matter.

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“Not all work done by children should be classified as child labour, children’s participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling is generally positive.

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“This includes activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays.

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“These kind of activities contribute to children’s development and to the welfare of their families, they provide them with skills and experience, and help to prepare them to be productive members of the society during their adult life,” said Mr Masocha.

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Traditionally, children were socialised to be productive in society and they would look after the family’s livestock, forage for food, take care of their siblings and work in family fields.

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This has often been used to justify the continued prevalence of child labour. As such, child labourers in Zimbabwe are employed on farms, as domestic help and in small scale industries, mostly the informal sector.

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A snap survey conducted by The Sunday Mail Extra during the festive season in Manicaland revealed that some commercial farmers are deliberately hiring minors who offer cheap labour.

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Children aged between eight and 14 years toil in tobacco fields all day long, either applying chemicals, weeding or transplanting the tobacco.

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Some of the children who were applying poisonous chemicals in the fields were not putting on any protective clothing.

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Those who spoke to The Sunday Mail Extra said they have dropped out of school to concentrate on ‘work’. Some are forced by their parents to do so while other child labourers are orphans.

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“I left school when I was in Grade Five to help my mother fend for my three siblings who have since stopped going to school,” said nine-year-old Nyasha.

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Another child, Nomsa Mhara, said she has two jobs on the farm.

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“I do weeding and in the harvesting season I carry clipped tobacco from the fields into the tractors and out of this work l get money. If the work is done properly, we are given bonuses.”

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Contract labour is generally done on a task-wage (payment per task) or piece-wage (payment per output) system on some of these farms.

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Work is paid per hour and the minimum number of hours is five with a pay check of $10 dollars per week.

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Tinotenda (12), herds cattle.

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He confided to this publication that for the past 11 months, he is receiving food and second hand clothes as payment for his services.

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“I don’t even know the bond notes, I am paid in food items or clothes,” said the barefoot boy whose with extensively cracked heels.

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A farmer who preferred anonymity said the children are not forced to work for them. Instead, he said they beg for the contracts.

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Mr Abel Shonhiwa, a commercial tobacco farmer in the area, said they recruit male workers, who then sub-recruit women to increase output. In turn, the women can recruit children such that the employer, who would have formally employed one person, may end up receiving labour from three or more people.

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“This kind of a scenario happens when they want to complete their work in time. We don’t directly employ these children,” said Shoniwa.

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General Agriculture Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe, Mr Golden Magwaza, said they work with SI 72 of 1997 that prohibits employment of children (defined as under years of age) and young persons under 18 in underground mining, night work involving hazardous substances or specified machinery, or work which interferes with a child’s education.

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Magwaza said they hold meetings to educate the community on child labour.

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Lack of adequate social services such as education is contributing to child employment.

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The prevalence of AIDS is also resulting in the loss of parents and forcing children to become their own breadwinners. Through child labour, a minor’s mental and physical development is compromised and their childhood is stolen.

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The Government of Zimbabwe passed the Labour Amendment Act of 2013 to increase the minimum age for work from 15 to 16 years, and the minimum age for apprenticeships from 13 to 16 years.

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Zimbabwe has also ratified all key International Conventions concerning child labour and these include the International Labour Organisation Convention 138 of minimum age and was set at 16 years in section 3 of the Labour Amendment Act of 2013.

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The minimum age for hazardous work was set at 18 years which is in tandem with section (11) 4 of the Labour Act and the International Labour Organisation Convention 182 on worst forms of child labour.

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At continental level, Zimbabwe ratified in 1995 the African Charter on the rights and welfare of children.

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Both Zimbabwe’s Constitution and the Children Act state that children under the age of 18 should be protected from child labour unless working as part of a course in a technical or vocational school. Section 19 (3) (a) and (b) of the constitution addresses child labour. Legislation is supposed to protect children from exploitative labour practices and from work that is inappropriate for their age or could harm their well-being and education.

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Mr Masocha said Zimbabwe’s legal framework is good, although it requires aggressive implementation.

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The Government of Zimbabwe has established policies on child labour. The National Action Plan to Combat Child Labour strengthens the understanding of child labour issues and it consists of three focus areas, that is education assistance — Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), poverty assistance through cash transfer schemes and health assistance.

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The Zimstats 2014 Child Labour Report show that children below the age of 18 years make up close to 50 percent of the total population in Zimbabwe.

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Of these children, 72 percent live in the rural areas and 55,5 percent of them are economic child labourers who live in households where the head earns between $1 and $100 per month.

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The survey revealed that 92,1 percent of the economic child labourers were never paid for their services.

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  • There are too many governments that have ratified treaties supporting the rights of children, yet are doing way too little to enforce and implement them. Action speaks louder than signed and ratified treaties!