ZIMBABWE made minimal progress in efforts to eliminate worst forms of child labour in 2022, with abuse projected to increase due to deteriorating economic conditions and the ongoing climate crisis and its attendant droughts, flash floods and crop failures, a report has shown.
The country is reeling under a worsening socio-economic crisis which has seen an estimated 40% of the people wallowing in abject poverty.
Findings by the United States Department of Labour in its report titled“2022 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labour”, have shown that more children under the age of 14 have been ushered into labour, with the largest population now working in the agricultural sector.
Latest statistics show that up to 617 582 children aged between 5-14 years of age were working, with the agricultural sector employing 96.7% of them in the production of tea, tobacco, cotton, sugarcane, fishing and forestry.
While only 2.5% of the children have been involved in services such as street vending and begging, domestic work, childcare, house cleaning, and gardening, the remaining 0.8% have been extensively involved in mining and gold panning, using dangerous chemicals such as cyanide and mercury, and extracting material from underground passages and quarries.
The report shows that young children have also been involved in commercial sexual exploitation, often involving girls from poor and distressed rural households.
This occurs in urban centres, along major transit corridors, and in mining areas.
“Human traffickers frequently lure orphans or children from rural households for work in cities with promises of educational opportunity or adoption. Such children are then subjected to domestic service or are forced to work in mining. However, the re-opening of schools, following Covid-19 closures, likely resulted in a reduction of children working in prostitution, street begging, domestic services, informal trading, agriculture, and artisanal mining,” reads the report.
“Children aged eight to 17 work on tobacco farms, performing activities such as planting, weeding, harvesting, packing, and grading tobacco, tasks that often expose them to toxic chemicals and the effects of nicotine from handling tobacco leaves. Children also work on sugar plantations in the southeastern part of the country, where they use dangerous tools and endure high temperatures,” reads the report.
“Moreover, children work at artisanal and small-scale gold-mining sites, where they face risks including collapsed mines and exposure to mercury, and in commercial sexual exploitation around mining areas. In some cases, armed criminal groups have lured children to mining sites with the promise of self-employment and then forced them to mine gold under the threat of physical harm or death.”
The slow progress in ending child labour has also been blamed on the continually shrinking civic space, which has seen the Zanu PF government strangle labour unions.
“In 2022 and during the run up to the 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections, the government and state-aligned Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) political party engaged in a variety of tactics intended to obstruct, hinder, and in some cases violate the rights of workers and worker-aligned organisations advocating for better working conditions, including the identification and prevention of child labor,” reads the report.
“At least one trade union alleged Zanu PF activists obstructed a delegation of workers and civil society organisations seeking to access a commercial farm to investigate child labour claims. Although the government has contested this allegation, research finds a pattern of state and Zanu PF officials infiltrating trade union activities and interfering with or harassing attending workers. As civil society organisations and labour unions have been integral to reporting and advocacy on identification and prevention of child labour, including in the mining and agricultural sectors, these actions significantly inhibit Zimbabwe’s progress in eliminating child labour.”
According to the report, shambolic social services have also seen an increase in child labour, with poor school infrastructure, including lack of water and hygiene facilities, an insufficient number of teachers, and long travel distances to reach schools being highlighted as contributors to higher dropout rates, leaving children vulnerable to labour, particularly in rural areas.
While the government created a new Child Labour Unit within the ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare to steer the ministry’s child labour activities, Zimbabwe is assessed as having made only minimal advancement, as it continued a practice that delays advancement to eliminate child labour.
“The Education Amendment Act stipulates children’s right to education regardless of race, nationality, or place of birth. However, refugees and undocumented children who come to Zimbabwe from neighbouring countries, and children who otherwise lack birth certificates, face barriers to education because, beginning in grade seven, children must present identity documents to sit for national exams,” reads the report.
“As a result of these barriers, children may drop out of school, increasing their vulnerability to child labour. To address gaps in birth registration, the government has been operating a mobile birth registration programme to assist citizens in receiving identity documents, including birth certificates.”