Child labour powered by unplanned and abandoned children

It has been hell on earth. Sleeping on an empty stomach, going from one place to the other in search of any piece of work in order to find food, clothing and school materials on our own, and that has been part of our lives.”

This is how the young Major Lyton aged 11 and Yamikani Dyless aged 13, born in 2011 and 2013 respectively from different poor and irresponsible fathers in the area of Traditional Authority Chitekwere in Lilongwe district, describes their lives.

“Since our mother (Teresa Alick, aged 30) got married to another man, our lives have never been the same. My four siblings and I, lack a lot of things in our lives, that have even caused us to stop going to school.

“We do almost everything on our own through pieces of work, as our stepfather too depend on pieces of work for us to eat on that particular day. We go and herd cattle, goats and work in different farms just for our survival,” said Dyless with tears oozing from his eyes.

Major and Yamikani with parents at their home

He says recently the two (Major Lyton and Yamikani Dyless) walked for a distance of about 80 kilometers (From TA Chitekwele to TA Chadza) just to find piece of work for their survival.

 “We left our home and went to the area of Traditional Authority Chadza where we were employed to herd cattle. It was not easy at all, because in most cases, we were herding the cattle in a thick forest, bare footed and we were retiring back home very late without eating anything from morning up to the evening. It was not easy at all,” he narrated.

After hearing this sad development, Lilongwe District Labour Office and other stakeholders teamed up to withdraw the two young boys from herding the cattle, describing it as child labour.

Lilongwe District Labour Officer Chiletso Mbewe has since singled out child abandonment and lack of support among the children being some of the factors fueling child labour in the district and the country at large.

“It is sad that many families more especially in the rural areas, continue bearing many children that they cannot afford to take care of. This forces young children to go out and find pieces of work for their needs,” she said.

District Labour officers repatriating Major and Yamikani

Malawi National Child Labour survey (2022) clearly shows that the country continues to affect an estimated 2.1 million children aged 5-17 years, representing a 38 percent of this age group.

These numbers indicate clearly that efforts in this regard need to be intensified and accelerated so that the goal of child labour elimination is reached in the nearest possible future.

The survey also revealed that child labour is higher among children from poor households and even among best-off households, as it shows that more than one in three children are subjected to child labour.

In policy terms, this result suggests that a strategic response based on poverty reduction alone is unlikely to be effective in eliminating child labour.

The statistics further indicate that 72 percent of children aged 5-17 years work in agriculture sector, 23 percent in domestic sector and 3 percent are in wholesale.

In urban areas, less than half (46 percent) of those aged 5-17 years worked in agriculture, forestry and fishing industry, 11 percent are in wholesale and retail trade, 39 percent are in domestic sector and 4 percent are in other sectors.

Mbewe then urged parents and guardians to take care of their children by among other things providing for their needs such as food, clothing and good shelter so that they do not go out and work in hazardous places.

Said Mbewe: “Section 9 of the Childcare, Protection and Justice Act, clearly states that where a parent or any other person who is legally liable to maintain a child or to contribute towards the maintenance of the child, neglects to maintain the child or to make the contribution, the concerned persons may apply against such person to the child justice court for a maintenance order of the child.”

She further said the Act also allows the child; the parent of the child; the guardian of the child; relatives of the child; a social welfare officer; a police officer; a teacher; a health officer; and any other appropriate person to apply against such persons to the children’s court for a child maintenance order.

She then disclosed that Lilongwe district council has already formulated by-laws that will deal with all parents and guardians that allow their young children to work in hazardous places such as estates, mining and factories.

“These children we have repatriated and withdrawn, walked on foot for a distance of about 80 kilometers (From TA Chitekwele to TA Chadza) just to find pieces of work. They have been working as animal herd boys at that age. This clearly shows that these children are not taken care of by their parents. It’s quite pathetic,” she said. 

Gikilosi Phiri, aged 32, the step father, admitted that he is failing to take care of the children because he is not working and he doesn’t have any business to depend on.

“I depend on pieces of work to feed my family members. As you can see here, even our house doesn’t have doors and we sleep like that. It’s not deliberate that these young children go out to look for pieces of work, but it’s the situation we are in that is forcing them,” he said.

Phiri has since asked Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Churches and well-wishers to assist the family with essential items such as food, clothing, beddings and some cash for the family to start a small business.

However, Malawi News Agency (Mana) also observed that the family doesn’t even have a toilet, a bathing room and even their dwelling house doesn’t have privacy since the house doesn’t have separated bedrooms.

Learners displaying placards

It was observed that there is no child that go school due to lack of required school materials such as bags, exercise books and pens.

Further observation noted that although the Phiri’s family is passing through such difficult situation, the wife is again expectant and soon the number of family members in the house will  increase, making the situation more than worse.

Group Village Headman Chinyama in the area of Traditional Authority Chitekwele thanked the district Labour office for withdrawing the young boys from cattle herding, saying leaving them like that, their future would have been completely destroyed.

“It is pathetic to see young children like these to be working in such hard conditions while their friends are at school,” he said.

Chinyama further thanked the council for coming up with by-laws which he said will assist to protect children from child labour.

He then warned his subjects to stop exploiting young children saying the tendency is counterproductive.

“Send children to school so that they become productive citizens in the future and take part in developing their areas and the country at large,” he said.

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