CHAMBO NG’UNI, Kabwe
IT is showering on a chilly morning but *Mpundu, aged about 12, and her younger brother *Chola rush through the streets of Kabwe on a mission to sell brooms.The partially soaked siblings cautiously cross Mulungushi Avenue near Hindu Hall with bundles of home-made brooms in their heads.
The day is Tuesday when Mpundu and Chola are expected to be in class, but alas, they are trying to eke out a living on the streets of Kabwe.
“He is my young brother and we are coming from Makululu,” Mpundu hastily says as she waits for Chola to catch up with her.
On foot, they cover long distances from Makululu township to other townships within Kabwe to sell brooms.
On another day, *Robert, 13, is found on Marshal Avenue near Kabwe Lodge picking empty bottles.
He is moving from street to street like Mpundu and Chola, scavenging for bottles and throwing them in a sack that is strapped to his back.
Robert goes to school around midday, but his parents expect him to do some work before school time.
The other day, *Martha, aged about seven, is seen in Kabwe’s central business district with her elder brother selling iceblocks.
The look on her face and physical stature shows that the task is unbearable for the little girl.
A survey in Kabwe reveals an increase in the number of children aged between eight to 15 years who roam the streets of the central business district (CBD) and townships selling iceblocks, brooms, fritters and bottled water.
Other boys specialise in picking empty bottles, selling plastic bags and doing piecework of ferrying heavy luggage for shoppers in town.
Although street vending has been banned, the traders, including children, remain undeterred.
Child rights activists have come out to condemn child labour in Kabwe because of its negative effect on the education, health and development of children.
“We have seen children as young as eight engaging in child labour on the streets of Kabwe,” Central Province child development coordinator Allan Jere says.
Mr Jere says the increasing number of children in the CBD and townships selling different things and scavenging for empty plastic bottles is worrying.
Most of the affected children interviewed said they are sent to work on the streets by their parents and guardians.
However, parents and guardians say they are poverty-stricken, hence coercing children to contribute to families’ incomes.
“Most of these children are being sent by parents or elderly persons. Usually, they say they are poor because they are not in employment or involved in any business,” Mr Jere says.
The provincial administration fears that the street environment is harsh for children, especially girls, who are vulnerable to sexual abuse and other forms of gender-based violence.
Boys are also vulnerable to violence and such vices as alcohol and drug abuse.
“On the streets, some people can take advantage of them to lure them in immoral things like sexual activities,” Mr Jere adds.
The Ministry of Youth, Sport and Child Development, Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare and some non-governmental organisations are working together to address the problem of child labour and related vices in Kabwe.
Kabwe district labour inspector Jennipher Shamabanse says it is unfortunate that parents engage their children in tasks that should be done by adults.
Ms Shamabanse says parents and guardians have the responsibility of protecting and nurturing their children and dependants into responsible people.
She says children also need to enjoy their childhood.
“A child can do some domestic chores because in adulthood, one needs to work. But whatever responsibilities or work a child does must correspond to their age,” Ms Shamabanse says.
She stresses that generating income for the family is not a responsibility of children, but rather it is exclusively for parents or guardians.
And Godfrey Mwape says as a parent, it saddens him to see children performing tasks meant for adults.
Mr Mwape says it is sad that some people are driven by poverty to send children to go and work on the streets.
“It is the responsibility of parents to feed children and not the other way round,” he says.
Mr Mwape urged parents and guardians not to exploit their children or dependants because child labour is detrimental to the development and well-being of adolescents.
“The girl child is not safe on the streets, she is prone to abuse. It’s not good to send children on the streets where their safety is not guaranteed,” he says.
Meanwhile, Mr Jere says Government is aware of what is happening in Kabwe and is working out some measures that will culminate into the removal of child labourers from the streets of Central Province’s headquarters.
“There are policies that protect children and to that effect, when we encounter issues of child labour, we can make use of certain programmes,” Mr Jere says.
However, he believes it’s the responsibility of parents to fend for the children and protect them from harmful activities such as child labour.
“It is the duty of parents to feed their children. Parents are the duty bearers,” Mr Jere stresses.
* Not real name