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Child labour: The scourge that has killed our children's innocence
Justice for Children Trust
June 21, 2011

Over the recent years, there has been an increase in the number of children who have dropped out of school and entered formal or informal employment or trade so as to earn money for survival. The harsh economic conditions that have seen a steep decline in the general living standards and the HIV and AIDS pandemic have been a major contributory factor to the impoverished state of children. Many children have been forced to perform parental duties at very tender ages due to orphan hood and this entails fending for their siblings.

A number of children can be seen in the streets selling an assortment of goods like airtime, cigarettes, sweets and fruits at traffic intersections, street corners and various other places. It has also become a common sight to encounter children begging for food or money with their infant siblings strapped on their backs or in the company of a blind adult. Some night clubs and beer halls have become popular for hosting dancing groups comprised of young girls and boys to entertain their patrons. Due to the desperate situations that children find themselves in, they have also become a cheap source of labour in homes, factories, mines, farms and plantations. It is now a common sight to find house maids who are between the ages of fifteen and eighteen who have come from the rural areas because their employees are of the opinion that it is easier to find young girls who have not worked before so that they 'train' them how they should do their work before they are corrupted by other sources. All these engagements are undesirable as they prevent children from going to school in order to learn and develop to responsible adults. Besides failing to go to school, these children are exposed to work that is harmful to their health, mental and physical development.

Children who are in formal or informal employment or trade are prone to all kinds of abuse by their employers and many a times, they are abused in silence because they do not have a voice or the capacity to stand for their rights. There are many cases of sexual abuse of young girls who are employed as maids and of children who have joined dancing groups which offer entertainment in night clubs and beer halls. When these children are abused, they are sometimes threatened not to report the abuses or the perpetrators of the abuse pay some money or goods to the children's parents or relatives as compensation for the abuse. The children's employers also underpay the children and they are forced to work long hours without rest and if they attempt to raise a complaint to the employers, they are released from work without receiving their wages. Due to their minority status, children do not have the capacity to institute legal proceedings on their own to recover their wages and require the assistance of an adult to do so.

The plight of these children is worsened by the fact that there are laws which criminalise the employment of children or their engagement in any form of formal or informal trade, but the laws are not being implemented. In terms of section 10 of the Children's Act (Chapter 5:16), it is an offence for any parent or guardian to allow a child to beg or accompany the parent while they beg. The Children's Act also makes it an offence for a parent or guardian to allow a child to perform or be exhibited in any way for public entertainment in a manner that is likely to be detrimental to the child's health, morals, mind or body. The Children's Act also defines what constitutes hazardous labour regarding children and this includes work that is likely to interfere with or jeopardize the child's education. It is an offence to cause or permit a child of school going age to absent themselves from school to engage in employment for gain or reward.

Section 11 (4) of the Labour Act (Chapter 28:0) provides that no employer shall cause a person below the age of eighteen years to perform any work which is likely to jeopardize that person's health, safety or morals. The Act further provides that a person below the age of fifteen but not younger than thirteen may perform work at a school, technical or vocational institution that is carried out as an integral part of a course, technical or vocational education. However, these laws are not being implemented and children continue to abused and exposed to conditions that jeopardize their health, safety and morals.

Article 15 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) provides that every child shall be protected from performing any work for economic gain that might interfere with the child's development. The Article further provides that the State shall, amongst other things, educate the society on the hazards of child labour. As the nation joins the continent in commemorating the Day of the African Child, there is need to advocate for the implementation of the laws that protect children from child labour, educate the society on the hazards of child labour and for community members to take action against those who employ children and expose them to all forms of abuse. The preamble to the ACRWC states that the promotion and protection of the rights and welfare of the child implies the performance of duties on everyone's part. Let us all play our roles to ensure that children are protected from child labour and the abuses that are associated with it.

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