DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
IT IS harvest time all over Zambia and children are part of the work process from the field to the market.
Instead of attending school, some girls and boys in rural areas become child labourers.
Away from the public glare, some children are kept busy working on the farms, in fishing camps, plantations, and the bush herding livestock or toiling as domestic servants.
Child labour perpetuates a cycle of poverty for the children involved, their families and communities because without education, these boys and girls are likely to be the poor of tomorrow.
Just like many other rural districts, Itezhi-Tezhi faces the challenge of child labour.
In this Central Province district, children as young as 9 go out to work in the fields with their parents for as long as eight hours.
Richard Habeenzu*, nine, of Iyanda area in Chief Musungwaâ€™s chiefdom says he wakes up very early in the morning with his grandmother to go to the field to help with harvesting maize.
â€œMany of us work because we have no choice. My grandmother is too old; when she asks that we go together, I have no choice but to follow. If I tell her that I need to go to school, she says I am undisciplined,â€ Richard says.
Another boy aged 13, a grade 7 pupil, also had a similar story to tell.
Timothy* says many children in his area are employed at the expense of school.
â€œIt is not only us, many children risk not attending school for many months when it is harvest time or time to prepare the fields for the next farming season,â€ he said.
Many children do not have the opportunity to go to school at all, even if education is free.
â€œEven if we do not pay school fees, we still need money for uniforms and books. Our families do not have the money to support us. Because of this, we prefer to work to raise money for school requirements and food,â€ Timothy says.
Child labour denies children of the fundamental principles and rights, and also puts at risk their lives, health, freedom and human dignity. Furthermore, it subjects children to conditions of poverty that are unacceptable.
Despite all the negative effects of child labour, community leaders helplessly watch the trend go on unabated.
An induna in Chief Musungwaâ€™s area, Charles Sitali, says poverty is the driving force behind child labour.
â€œThe families where these children come from are poor. Their income is low. In some cases, farm workers take their children along with them to the plantations to complete the tasks they have been assigned,â€ Mr Sitali says.
He says children are the future leaders and their healthy development is of utmost importance to the country.
Unfortunately, child labour denies children the right to a healthy childhood.
Mr Sitali is alive to the fact that child labour has a great cost on society because it keeps children out of school and also hampers the healthy development of their minds and bodies.
â€œMany rural girls and boys plant and harvest crops; spray pesticides and tend livestock. They work on fishing boats or on the shore cutting and smoking fish. You know fishing is a way of life [livelihood] here in Itezhi- Tezhi,â€ Mr Sitali said.
The majority of child labourers in rural areas have a duty to contribute to the familyâ€™s upkeep.
A resident of Iyanda in Chief Musungwaâ€™s area, Mary Mwangala, 89, says eliminating child labour in rural areas poses a big challenge because poverty remains the biggest obstacle.
â€œPoverty is one of the main causes of child labour. In many rural areas, children work for their survival and to meet the need for cash, food, shelter and clothing. Parents like me depend on our childrenâ€™s labour even when we know it is wrong,â€ she said.
Child labour in agriculture is often done secretly, as most children work as unpaid labourers in family farms, rural enterprises, while some are in active employment, but the illegality goes on unabated because labour inspectors rarely reach such places.
Apart from the physical dangers, experts say working is an obstacle to a childâ€™s long-term economic advancement.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), child labour deprives a child of education and, obviously, of a future, because if a child cannot go to school, he/she is likely to have a bleak future.
This is the reason why anti-child measures by ILO and its partners focus on education.
ILO says keeping children in school and helping families pull themselves out of poverty are key to helping Africa achieve the kind of growth it needs to improve its position in the global marketplace.
Unfortunately for children labourers, daily life consists of more than just back-breaking labour. Hazardous conditions are commonplace not just on the farms, where pesticides abound and machinery meant to be run by adults poses threats to children, but also in mining, where conditions are sometimes more appalling.
Chi ld labour has high economic, social and political costs in any country. Remedial measures must therefore address the root causes of child labour and promote decent work for adults in rural areas.
*Not real name.
DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka