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World Day Against Child Labour: Africa Can Allow Her Children To Enjoy Childhood

An estimated 168 million children are trapped in child labour globally with many of them working full-time. According to the United Nations some of these children do not go to school, have little or no time to play, do not receive proper nutrition or care and are denied the chance to be children. Can Africa allow children not to labour?

An estimated 168 million children are trapped in child labour globally with many of them working full-time. According to the United Nations some of these children do not go to school, have little or no time to play, do not receive proper nutrition or care and are denied the chance to be children. The African continent has more children in child labour particularly in the Congo were many are engaged in cobalt mining.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) launched the International Day Against Child Labour in 2002 to draw attention to this challenge. It takes place every year on the 12th of June and this year the focus is on how conflicts and disasters impact child labour.

ILO defines child labour as work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children. The work may interfere with schooling either through depriving them of the opportunity to school or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work. In some instances, children have been enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and left to fend for themselves on the streets.

According to Relief-web there are 59 million child labourers in sub-Saharan Africa (one in five) and 9.2 million in the Middle East and North Africa. The countries with the highest number of child labourers are Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. They have all been affected by conflict for many years and have high out-of-school populations. An estimated 60% all the world’s child labourers work in agriculture, which includes farming and fishing. Two-thirds of these work for their families for no money and often start when they are very young – usually between five and seven years old.

Corporate child labour in Africa. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It is important to note that not all form of work is child labour. Some children work, helping around the house, assisting in the family business and earning pocket money outside school hours or during school holidays. This type of work all contributes to children’s development and the welfare of their families. It also enables children to be productive members of a community. Most children in African set ups help around the home in this way.

Sadly the UN children’s agency, UNICEF reports that about 40,000 children work in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, receiving less than $2 for a shift which may go up to 24 hours. In the context of conflicts and disasters parents may be killed, maimed and injured forcing children to keep the family afloat. In some cases the displacements and separation of families coupled with disruption of school services puts children at risk of being forced into child labour.

The ray of hope on the continent is that a lot of countries are making efforts to eradicate child labour. For example the Federation of Uganda Employers has set up child labour monitoring committees at the local level, including in the coffee, tea, rice and sugar sectors. In Rwanda over 11,000 children have been withdrawn from practices categorised as child labour in the last five years.

The cocoa industry in West Africa is tainted by the existence of child labour, however, cross-industry programmes such as the International Cocoa Initiative which aims to protect children in cocoa growing communities have been useful in alleviating child labour. In Tanzania a government and ILO survey released in 2016 estimated that there are more than 4 million child labourers in Tanzania aged between 5 and 17. Several nongovernmental organizations, among them, Terre des Hommes Netherlands and Plan International have worked hard to get child workers back in school and helped families develop alternative income sources.

With these efforts being made to eradicate child labour, the continent should be able to effectively terminate child labour in the near future. More importantly, governments have to take a multi-faceted approach to ensuring this eradication. This can be through acknowledging that there are many entry points to child labour such as poor educational facilities, political turmoil and poor laws among other issues. If these are addressed, we can have a continent which gives a chance to children to enjoy childhood.

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