Editor's Comment

Keep pupils away from caterpillar harvest

THE hot season comes with a number of benefits and drawbacks. In fact, what could be a gain for some, could be a stumbling block for others.
One of the gains this time of the year is the abundance of edible caterpillars (vinkubala) in trees in the wild. It is a benefit because it provides many rural households with food and income .
The caterpillars, which are mostly harvested by women and children, provide health benefits for consumers. They have been endorsed by nutritionists as a source of high protein.
Another advantage, which has now occupied the minds of the rural dwellers, is the monetary gain that it provides.
Apart from being harvested for home consumption, the caterpillars are also sold to urban dwellers.  The income from these sales ostensibly goes into buying other home needs for the rural folk.
But there is a down side to this activity.  The harvesting of these worms found on leaves and barks of trees is a laborious task and it calls for concerted efforts from family members. Families leave their villages in the morning and only return in the evenings.
We know that this is the time for the rural dwellers to make some profit from these God-given creatures but the manner in which the family members are co-opted, raises a lot of concern.
School-going children are deeply involved in these harvesting activities. Whether it is out of their own resolve or they are withdrawn from school by their parents, the action subtracts from government’s efforts to enhance education in Zambia.
Children should be in school at the designated times.  Their withdrawal is a denial of their universal right to education.
The recent timely warning by Minister of Foreign Affairs Harry Kalaba against diverting school children from class to the harvesting of caterpillars is apt.
It is disheartening that at a time when the year is coming to an end, and children in schools are wrapping up their school syllabuses, they should be diverted from their core activity to the caterpillar fields.
We welcome the warning from Mr Kalaba, who is also Bahati member of Parliament, that he will severely deal with parents who are in this habit.
Such ill-treatment of children should not be tolerated.  Parents who force their children into this activity should be educated against doing so and if they ignore the wise counsel, they should be taken to task on child labour offences.
Parents must not look at just the short-term benefits of the caterpillar harvests.  Children must be given a chance to get a good formal education.  That is the surest way of getting out of the hardships they may be facing.
Success in life is largely a result of one getting a good education that puts them at a vintage position for good jobs or skills that would enhance their income-generating ventures.
Parents are free to make the most of the availability of the caterpillars.  In fact, they are encouraged to harvest as many as they can to improve their income, but they should leave the children out of it.
It is understandable that they may need every hand available to get this delicacy, but it should never be at the expense of children’s education, especially those in final examination classes.  The children need not be disadvantaged forever.
Zambia needs an educated cadre that is ready to develop the country when their time to do so comes. The classroom is the starting point; not the caterpillar field.

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