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Combating evils of child labour

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‘It is very unfortunate that, at times, teachers are perpetrators of child labour in schools through giving harsh punishments, teachers’ absenteeism, sexual harassment to female students and many others’

In its September 2018 report titled ‘Understanding Child Labour and Youth Employment in Malawi’, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) makes a staggering revelation that more than two in five children aged between five and 13 years, almost 1.7 million in absolute terms, are children engaged in child labour.

The report goes on to say that the largest share of children in child labour, about 65 percent, works in agriculture. Domestic services is the second largest sector, accounting for 30 percent of children in child labour.

According to the United States Department of Labour, children in Malawi are subjected to the worst forms of child labour, including in the harvesting of tobacco and in commercial sexual exploitation, each sometimes as a result of human trafficking.

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The saddest part of it is that child labour inflicts damage to a child’s physical and mental health. A child labourer has no basic rights to education, development and freedom.

Children employed as labourers work in unsafe environments where there is a constant danger of fatal accidents. They are forced to lead a life of poverty, illiteracy and deprivation.

A child labourer not just suffers physical and mental torture but also becomes mentally and emotionally mature too fast, which is never a good sign.

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Over the years, the task of eliminating child labour has been largely the responsibility of government and other stakeholders in the labour industry.

But, according to Consolidated Good Practices of the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (Ipec) interviews with children who have left the education system to enter the labour market, one of the strongest push factors is the attitude of teachers towards them.

Realising the hazardous impact that child labour has on the physical and mental wellbeing of children and the role education could play in pushing or pulling children out of labour, the Teachers Union of Malawi (Tum), through ILO’s Accelerating Action on the Elimination of Child Labour (Accel) in Tea and Coffee Supply Chains initiative, has moved from its traditional work of looking at the welfare of teachers to the fight against child labour in selected 64 primary schools in Chitipa, Mzimba South, Ntchisi, Thyolo and Mulanje Districts.

Tum programmes Coordinator Pilirani Kamaliza says one of the organisation’s roles is to build the capacity of teachers as they strive to enhance their professional development in the teaching field.

Speaking at Gambula Teachers Training Centre (TDC) in Mulanje on the sidelines of a three-day Supporting Childrens Rights through Education, Arts and the Media (Scream) training, Kamaliza said training for teachers would help them work with both communities and learners to ensure that all children of school-going age are always in school and that the dropout rate should be reduced in their schools.

“The essence of such training is to enhance teachers’ knowledge on child rights and child labour issues and existing legal framework governing the protection of children so that they are able to define, characterise and distinguish different forms of child labour, appreciate international and national legal and policy instruments regarding child labour and enhance facilitation skills and implementation strategies,” Kamaliza said.

Tum President Willie Malimba admitted that child labour is a big problem that affects learning.

He added that, through the project, Tum intends to provide educational support to 1,000 boys and girls withdrawn from or prevented from entering into child labour.

“It is very unfortunate that, at times, teachers are perpetrators of child labour in schools through giving harsh punishments, teachers’ absenteeism, sexual harassment to female students and many others.

“I, therefore, urge all teachers to refrain from such misconducts which are likely to weaken learners’ interest in education hence exposing them to child labour once they drop out of school,” Malimba said.

Trainer for Thyolo, Thandie Kazunguza, said the programme exposes teachers to information they would otherwise not acquire but which is vital for both their personal professional development and education sector as a whole.

Speaking during the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour in Durban, South Africa, early this year, Vice-President Saulos Chilima called for swift action to end all forms of child labour in line with the Buenos Aires Declaration of action, which seeks to accelerate efforts to end child labour.

Children are children and must remain in school. Labour practices rob children of their childhood. They deny them the opportunity to be explorers, and learners, to develop and fulfil their potential.

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