LILLIAN BANDA, Lusaka
CHILD labour remains an obstacle to achieving many of the much orchestrated development goals particularly those that aim at reducing poverty levels.
Vulnerability does not only negate the welfare of individual children, but also slows broader national poverty reduction and development efforts.
Reports on studies done with regard to child labour indicate that children, forced out of school and into some form of income generating work to help their families make ends meet, are denied an opportunity to acquire the early childhood development, academic knowledge and skills needed for gainful future employment.
Economic considerations play a key role in decisions concerning childrenâ€™s work and education. Children are often forced to work because their survival and that of their families depend on it.
This points to the fact that childrenâ€™s earnings or productivity play an important role in household survival strategies among low-income families.
â€œI have not been going to school because I do not have uniforms and other school requirements,â€ lamented 10-year-old Mwewa (not real name), who resides in Lusakaâ€™s densely populated Chawama township.
Mwewa who, at the time of the interview had not been going to school for about three months, spends most of the time at Chawama Market grounds selling a traditional home-made beverage called munkoyo.
And Mwewaâ€™s mother confirmed that her daughter had not been going to school for some months and attributed that to financial challenges the family was facing. She said she could only afford to have two of her older children in school. Mwewa is the third child in a family of five.
â€œMy husband stopped providing for me and the children after a marital dispute. My children and I are trying very hard to survive, that is why I make munkoyo,â€ explained 38-year-old Mutale Banda (not real name).
She was, however, quick to mention that she was trying everything possible to ensure that Mwewa goes back to school.
A snap survey conducted at the market revealed at least one out of three children was involved in income generating activity of some sort and had abandoned school altogether.
It is an established fact that lack of a good education predisposes one to a mediocre existence by denying them a chance to realise their full potential.
The 2015 World Report on Child Labour suggests that early exposure to work in the form of child labour is associated with lower educational attainment and confines people to menial jobs that fail to meet a basic decent work remuneration criteria.
Children whose education is denied or impeded by child labour are more likely to leave school early and settle for low paying work in hazardous conditions as lack of academic knowledge and certifications entails less capacity to negotiate for better pay.
The report states further that early school leavers also take longer to find first jobs and are generally less likely than their more-educated counterparts to secure stable jobs.
It can be said therefore that child labour affects youth employment prospects and worsens the plight of vulnerable persons and communities.
â€œI was forced to leave school in grade six and found myself taking part-time menial work. I am not sure how old I was then but I think I must have been in my early years as a teenager,â€ recounts Moses Njovu, 34, a former child labourer.
Moses, who earns a living by selling clothes and simple pesticides, was born and brought up in Mukushi district, Central Province.
He cites financial challenges as the main reason he left school. A year after dropping out of school, his elder brother encouraged him to start selling assorted items to help supplement his familyâ€™s income.
â€œI know that I would have achieved a lot had I gone up to Grade 12. Some of my former class and schoolmates who continued with school have good jobs and are doing fairly well. I know of one who is a journalist.
â€œBut it is extremely rough for those of us with little or no education to make it. We have to make do with whatever poor-paying jobs or opportunities that come our way with no employment security guarantee,â€ laments Moses.
Moses explains that a lot of school drop-outs who later become child labourers do not end up well in adulthood. As a result of excessive drugs and alcohol intake, most former child labourers waste away and eventually become social misfits.
â€œIt is sad that as we get older, even the little work opportunities existing today begin to dwindle as alcoholism negatively affects our ability as most work requires physical strength,â€ grieves Moses who is married and has three children.
â€œI have made it a point to invest in my childrenâ€™s education because I want them to have a better future than this life I am leading.â€
He has implored stakeholders to intensify efforts aimed at encouraging children to stay in school and earn a craft.
â€œWe should have more programmes that seek to encourage children that have stopped school to go back to school and graduate with a craft,â€ he stresses.
A 2016 report by the United States Department on Labour indicates that in 2015, Zambia made a moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.
The Government adopted the Employment Amendment Act to prohibit casual employment in the informal sector, which may have an indirect effect on child labour.
In addition, the Government also approved a new youth policy that includes education and empowerment strategies for youths and continued to scale up its social cash transfer programme.
The report suggests that despite these developments, children in Zambia continue to engage in the worst forms of labour, including in the production of tobacco and commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking.
A total number of 992,722 are classified as working children, and 91.8 percent of working children aged five to 14 are in the agricultural sector, with the rest spread across other sectors.
The report cites gaps in the current legal framework related to children. For example, the Education Act does not include the specific age at which education is compulsory, and the Government has not defined what the school-going age is as required in the law, which may leave children under the legal working age vulnerable to the worst forms of child labour.
â€œThe prevalence and incidences of child labour are widespread but there is not much evidence based data to adequately qualify or quantify this dehumanising global phenomenon. We would do well to invest in research and advocacy programmes around child labour,â€ says Muma Kapambwe, an officer at the Child Protection Unit (CPU) of the Zambia Police Service.
Mr Kapambwe has since challenged organisations dealing with issues of vulnerable children to consider investing in child labour matters that focus on evidence based research and advocacy programmes.
The law enforcement officer explains that child labour has to a large extent contributed to the rise in the number of street children, noting that most children who start off as helpers in trading places end up living a whole-life on the street.
An estimated 150 million children worldwide are engaged in child labour. Sub-Sahara Africa has the largest proportion of child labourers with 28 percent of children aged between five and 14.
In both the Middle East, North Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, 10 percent of children in this age group are doing potentially harmful work compared to nine percent of children in South America and the Caribbean, according to the 2016 data documented by the United Nations Childrenâ€™s Fund (UNICEF).
Expert reports point out that ending child labour requires investment in education and holistic social security protection systems.
Ensuring free, compulsory and quality education from early childhood through to the minimum age of employment guarantees a sustainable livelihood at household, community and national levels.
A zero-tolerance to child labour provides families with the opportunity to invest in their childrenâ€™s education as it economically equalises access to sustainable employment and incomes.
Expanding social protection helps prevent child labour from being used as a household survival strategy in the face of economic shocks and social vulnerability.
LILLIAN BANDA, Lusaka