Child labour cases escalate as economy continues to plunge
By Duduzile Ruzive
The prevalence of child labour in Zimbabwe is on the rise, pushed on by the worsening economic environment in the country. The majority of child labourers are not going to school, a situation that binds them in a cycle of poverty.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), child labour is ‘work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally harmful to children and that interferes with their schooling.’ The 2010 UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report says 13 percent of Zimbabwean children are engaged in child labour.
Nkosinathi Ncube (name changed) (13) works at one of the farms in Trenance, an urban farming community on the outskirts of Bulawayo metropolitan province. He says he started working at the farm in 2020 when he was 10 years old.
“My parents were farm labourers at one of the farms in Trenance. My mother died in 2015 and my father re-married. His new wife was one of the farm workers and we were not in good books with her. Two years after the passing away of my mother, I dropped out of school because my father said he did not have enough money to send me and my two siblings to school,” says Nkosinathi.
Nkosinathi says as the first born, he decided to move to the neighbouring farm to work there so as to support his siblings.
“I did not have any challenges in getting a job here. I already had some friends who were working here, so they helped me. There is a high demand for farm labourers here. The work is tough, but I have nowhere to go,” says Nkosinathi.
Nkosinathi says his main duties at the farm include cleaning the fowl runs, feeding chickens, planting, weeding, and harvesting crops. He says there is little time for rest because he starts work early in the morning and finishing late in the evening.
“There is a lot of work to be done every day. Even during weekends we have some work to do, but there are shifts which allow us to do personal chores. I wish I could get an opportunity to go to school and have a better place to live,” says Nkosinathi.
Nkosinathi says he has no other plans to build a better future for himself. He says what he earns is just enough to buy some basics such as food and some few clothes.
Lucia Ncube (46), a mother of four who also works at one of the farms in Trenance, says many children in her community are engaged as farm labourers, and the majority of girls who work in farms ending up as child brides.
“Since 2000, there is a steady increase in child labour. Many children who work here are involved in tasks such as digging, planting, weeding, harvesting and selling of agricultural products. The work is not suitable for such young children, but they have nowhere to go,” says Lucia.
Lucia says those who employ child labourers pretend like they are helping the children yet they are destroying their future. She also says the child labourers are ignorant of their rights, so they are underpaid and overworked.
“The child labourers work long hours for poor salaries. They work alongside adults and this is not good for their health. Most of the children develop medical problems but are not given any medical support,” says Lucia.