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Child labour must be dealt with now

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A few years ago, the United States stopped any tobacco purchases from Malawi because of child labour input in the production chain.

This was a significant statement to all Malawians that child labour is wrong and unacceptable in the global village.

Child labour is the engagement of children under 16 years of age in commercial or productive work, which eventually deprives them of school attendance time and exposes them to social, mental and physical risks.

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It is illegal, therefore, to engage children in commercial work and the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act is the principal legal instrument for underscoring child welfare.

Section 82(c) of the Act prohibits parents and guardians of anybody from engaging children in income-generating activities.

It also places on these people the responsibility of caring for children in their custody.

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The larger intention of prohibiting child labour is to keep children in school and protect them from hazards of the workplace until they are old enough to withstand demands and pressure of commercial work.

The Act also works to deter the use of money as an inducement for children to provide labour. No wonder, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 182 calls for immediate and total elimination of child labour.

A 2021 ILO report indicates that 3.3 million children were in involuntary labour in the world, most of them in sub- Saharan Africa.

The report further observes that most cases of child labour are due to poverty and that sub- Saharan Africa plays host to 27 of 28 highly poverty stricken countries. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world.

President Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia, in his address to the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, stated that “education is the best equaliser”.

It, therefore, follows that any solution to poverty eradication across the globe must embody education, especially of children, as they are the future and point of change.

Persistent cases of child labour in Malawi dampen the future of the little ones as they miss education and find themselves in situations where opportunities are very unequal.

Luckily, Malawi has the enforceable legal tool in the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act to challenge child labour.

It is also a signatory to global and regional charters on the elimination of child labour.

Additionally, there is the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, among others, to tackle issues related to child welfare.

Evidently, what remains is strict enforcement of laws by respective duty-bearers.

Children regularly seen selling merchandise in cities must be followed up and their employers rounded up to face the long arm of the law.

Morally, everyone must stop buying merchandise from children at major bus terminals and depots such as Wenela and Zalewa in Blantyre and Chingeni in Balaka.

Again, there are common features of children around irrigation schemes at Mua in Dedza seen tilling rice fields and herding livestock.

These scenarios must be looked into because they entail child labour.

Progress of Malawi 2063 aspirations will be no further than progress of children in education. Child labour must not be tolerated, no matter how normal it may appear.

There is a direct relationship between poverty and violent crime because in some cases, when education fails, crime becomes a means.

It is wise, therefore, to get all children to school and eliminate child labour and its negative consequences now.

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