Child labour in Africa

Child labour in Africa is generally defined based on two factors: type of work and minimum appropriate age of the work. If a child is involved in an activity that is harmful to his/her physical and mental development, he/she is generally considered as a child labourer. That is, Any work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children, and interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work. Appropriate minimum age for each work depends on the effects of the work on the physical health and mental development of children. ILO Convention No. 138 suggests the following minimum age for admission to employment under which, if a child works, he/she is considered as a child laborer: 18 years old for hazardous works (Any work that jeopardizes children’s physical, mental or moral health), and 13–15 years old for light works (any work that does not threaten children’s health and safety, or prevent them from schooling or vocational orientation and training), although 12–14 years old may be permitted for light works under strict conditions in very poor countries.  Another definition proposed by ILO’s Statistical Information and Monitoring Program on Child Labor (SIMPOC) defines a child as a child labourer if he/she is involved in an economic activity, and is under 12 years old and works one or more hours per week, or is 14 years old or under and works at least 14 hours per week, or is 14 years old or under and works at least one hour per week in activities that are hazardous, or is 17 or under and works in an “unconditional worst form of child labor” (prostitution, children in bondage or forced labor, armed conflict, trafficked children, pornography, and other illicit activities).

Africa has the world’s highest incidence rates of child labour. A report by the United Nations’ International Labour Organization reveals that in 2016 nearly 1 out of every 5 children partakes in child labor. The problem is severe in sub-saharan Africa where more than 40% of all children aged 5–14 labour for survival, or about 48 million children.

Although poverty is generally considered as the primary cause of child labour in Africa, recent studies show that the relationship between child labour and poverty is not as simple as a downward linear relationship. A study published in 2016 “Understanding child labour beyond the standard economic assumption of monetary poverty” illustrates that a broad range of factors – on the demand- and supply-side and at the micro and macro levels – can affect child labour; it argues that structural, geographic, demographic, cultural, seasonal and school-supply factors can also simultaneously influence whether children work or not, questioning thereby the common assumption that monetary poverty is always the most important cause. In another study, Oryoie, Alwang, and Tideman (2017) show that child labour generally decreases as per capita land holding (as an indicator of a household’s wealth in rural areas) increases, but there can be an upward bump in the relationship between child labour and landholding near the middle of the range of land per capita. In addition to poverty, Lack of resources, together with other factors such as credit constraints, income shocks, school quality, and parental attitudes toward education are all associated with child labour.

The International Labour Organization estimates that agriculture is the largest employer of child labour in Africa. Vast majority are unpaid family workers.

Cultural history

Children in Africa have worked in farms and at home over a long history. This is not unique to Africa; large number of children have worked in agriculture and domestic situations in America, Europe and every other human society, throughout history, prior to 1950s. Scholars suggest that this work, specially in rural areas, was a form of schooling and vocational education, where children learned the arts and skills from their parents, and as adults continued to work in the same hereditary occupation. Bass claims this is particularly true in the African context.

Africa is a highly diverse and culturally continent. In parts of this continent, farming societies adhere to a system of patrilineal lineages and clans. The young train with the adults. The family and kinsfolk provide a cultural routine that help children learn useful practical skills and enables these societies to provide for itself in the next generation. Historically, there were no formal schools, instead, children were informally schooled by working informally with their family and kin from a very early age. Child labor in Africa, as in other parts of the world, was also viewed as a way to instill a sense of responsibility and a way of life in children particularly in rural, subsistence agricultural communities. In rural Pare people of northern Tanzania, for example, five-year-olds would assist adults in tending crops, nine-year-olds help carry fodder for animals and responsibilities scaled with age.

In northern parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Islam is a major influence. Begging and child labour was considered as a service in exchange for quranic education, and in some cases continues to this day.[18] These children aged 7–13, for example, were called almudos in Gambia, or talibés in Senegal. The parents placed their children with marabout or serin, a cleric or quranic teacher. Here, they would split their time between begging and studying the Quran. This practice fit with one of the five pillars of Islam, the responsibility to engage in zakat, or almsgiving.

The growth of colonial rule in Africa, from 1650 to 1950, by powers such as Britain, France, Belgium, Germany and Netherlands encouraged and continued the practice of child labour. Colonial administrators preferred Africa’s traditional kin-ordered modes of production, that is hiring a household for work not just the adults. Millions of children worked in colonial agricultural plantations, mines and domestic service industries. Children in these colonies between the ages of 5-14 were hired as apprentice without pay in exchange for learning a craft. Colonial British laws, for example, offered the native people ownership to some of the native land in exchange for making labor of wife and children available to colonial government’s needs such as in farms and as picannins.

Child labour was also encouraged by new tax laws. British and French colonial empires introduced new taxes to help pay for the local colonial government expenses. One of these, called the Head Tax, imposed a tax payable by every person, in some cases as young as 8 year old. Regional populations rebelled against such taxes, hid their children, and in most part had to ensure their children were involved in economic activity to pay such taxes and pay their living expenses. Christian mission schools in Africa stretching from Zambia to Nigeria too required work from children, and in exchange provided religious education, not secular education.

In late colonial period, colonial governments attempted to run schools and educate children in parts of Africa. These effort were generally unsuccessful both in terms of enrollment and impact. Few children enrolled. Even when children enrolled, it did not necessarily mean regular attendance. Chronic absenteeism, or children dropped out of the schools to instead “go to sea with the fishermen.” Jack Lord claims in his reviews of scholarly papers of African colonial history, that late colonial era experience suggests children and families made decisions based on complex combination of economic factors such as household income, state of the family, and cultural factors that considered working with families as a form of education and a form of developing social and human capital.

Contemporary child labour

Agriculture alone employs more than 30% of all African children aged 10–14. Informal economy such as small scale artisanal mines is another significant employer of child labour.

Burkina Faso
According to Burkina Faso’s United States Department of Labor in 2012, 37.8% of children in Burkina Faso, between the ages of 5–14 years, were working in granite quarries and gold mines. These children have worked 6 to 7 days a week for up to 14 hours per day. Payment is in the form of food to eat and a place to sleep. Since that time, the Government has adopted a National Action Plan, and in collaboration with Interpol, have since have rescued many children from child trafficking.

Christian Children’s Fund of Canada (CCFC) has partnered with EDUCO, a fellow member of the ChildFund Alliance, to implement a European Union-funded project in north Burkina to prevent children from working in mines.

Congo
In 2008, Bloomberg claimed child labour in copper and cobalt mines of Congo that supplied Chinese companies. The children dig the ore by hand, carry sacks of ores on their backs, and these are then purchased by these companies. Over 60 of Katanga’s 75 processing plants are owned by Chinese companies and 90 percent of the region’s minerals go to China. An African NGO report claimed 80,000 child labourers under the age of 15, or about 40% of all miners, were supplying ore to Chinese companies in this African region.

BBC, in 2012, accused Glencore of using child labour in its mining and smelting operations of Africa. Glencore denied it used child labour, and said it has strict policy of not using child labour. Glencore claimed being aware of child miners who it claimed were part of a group of artisanal miners. They had without authorisation raided Glencore’s concession since 2010, and the company claimed it has been pleading with the government to remove the artisanal miners from its concession.

About 4.7 million children aged 5–14 work in Congo. In addition to copper mines, children with their families participate in artisanal mining of cobalt, wolframite, cassiterite, columbite-tantalite, gold, diamonds. Many of these use hammers to break free the ore, pour harsh chemicals with no protective equipment, and manually transport rocks from deep pit or open pit mines. Children also work in agriculture and continue to be recruited as child soldiers for Congolese National Army and various rebel groups. Child labour is commonly visible on the streets of Kinshasa region.

Ghana
The 2010 United States Department of Labor estimated over 2.7 million child labourers in Ghana, or about 43% of all children aged 5–14. 78.7% of these children work in agriculture, 17.6% in fishing and transportation services, and 3.7% in industry, which includes manufacturing work and mining. In Ghana 64% of children seek work for financial reasons, making it the leading driver for child labor in the region. Most children working in rural areas are working on family farms and often combine schooling with their work. In Urban areas, such as Accra and Ashanti children are often not enrolled in school and are often engaged in artisanal fishing and domestic services. Child porters, locally called kayaye, work in urban areas and some of them are as young as 6 years.

Agriculture, fishing and artisan mining were the largest employers.

In southern Volta region, children work in religious servitude for a period ranging between few months to three years. They are known as trokosi (literally: wife of a god), fiashidi , or vudusi. This practice requires young girls to work and serve the religious order, in order to atone for family members’ alleged sins or as an offering for the family’s good fortune. This practice is claimed to be also present in neighboring countries, even though it has been outlawed and imposes prison term under the laws of Ghana and neighboring countries.

In 2013, statistics on children’s work have not changed much and according to the DOL’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Ghana, the majority of working children engage in hazardous activities like pesticide spraying in the production of cocoa, fishing and gold mining. The Department’s 2014 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor includes fish and tilapia in particular, cocoa and gold as goods produced in such working conditions in Ghana.

Kenya
Suda, in 2001, estimated that Kenya had 3 million children working in intolerable conditions and who were visible. The number of invisible child workers, claims Suda, were much larger. The visible child labour in Kenya were engaged in agriculture, tourism industry, quarries and mines, pastoral labour, mining, garbage collection, fishing industry, and the transport sector where they move from place to place as “Matatu” touts.

The government of Kenya estimates there are 8.9 million children aged 5–13 who work, most of whom miss schooling. Agriculture is a major employer; of all labourers employed in coffee plantations, for example, 30% are children younger than age 27.

The government of Kenya estimates there are 8.9 million children aged 5–13 who work, most of whom miss schooling. Agriculture is a major employer; of all labourers employed in coffee plantations, for example, 30% are children younger than age 27.

United Nations, in its country profile report for Kenya in 2009, estimated about one third of all children aged 5–14 were working. Agriculture and fishing were the largest employers, with former accounting for roughly 79% of child labour.

The United States Department of Labor estimated, in its 2010 report, about 32% of all Kenyan children aged 5–14 work, or over 2.9 million. Agriculture and fishing are the predominant employers. The informal sectors witnessing the worst form of child labour include sugarcane plantations, pastoral ranches, tea, coffee, miraa (a stimulant plant), rice, sisal, tobacco, tilapia and sardines fishing. Other economic activities of children in Kenya include scavenging dumpsites, collecting and selling scrap materials, glass and metal, street vending, herding and begging. Forced exploitation of children in sex tourism, the report claims, is prevalent in major cities such as Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret and coastal cities of Kenya.

Poverty and lack of schooling opportunities are major causes of child labour in Kenya. The country faces shortages of teachers and schools, overcrowding in schools, and procedural complications from children’s unregistered status. Kenyan law prevents access to schools to a child if he or she is unregistered as a citizen with Kenyan authorities. Currently, 44% of Kenyan children in rural areas remain unregistered. Thus, even when schools may be available, rural children are unable to prove citizenship, and these unregistered children risk losing the opportunity for schooling.

Madagascar
Children are common in small scale mines of Madagascar. Some children are involved in salt mining, quarry work, gem and gold ore collection. About 58% of children in these mines are younger than age 12. According to IPEC, Child labourers in these mines usually come from families who are in precarious economic situation.

According to a United States-based 2010 report, about 22% of Madagascar children aged 5–14, or over 1.2 million work. Another French based group suggests Madagascar child labour exceeds 2.4 million, with over 540,000 children aged 5–9 working. About 87% of the child labour is in agriculture, mainly in the production of vanilla, tea, cotton, cocoa, copra (dried meat of coconut), sisal, shrimp harvest and fishing. Malagasy children engaged in domestic service work an average of 12 hours per day.

Several internationally funded efforts were involved in Madagascar to help reduce and prevent child labour. However these stopped, after the government change following 2009 coup, because much of the funding from international donors, including the African Union, European Union, World Bank and the United States, was suspended.

Morocco
A 2010 report estimates about 150,000 children aged between 5 and 14 were working in Morocco. Agriculture and domestic services are the predominant employers. Young girls, locally called as petites bonnes (little maids), are sent to work as live in domestic servants, many aged 10 or less. These petites bonnes come from very poor families, face conditions of involuntary servitude, including long hours without breaks, absence of holidays, physical, verbal and sexual abuse, withheld wages and even restrictions on their movement. They are denied education. More visible forms of child labour includes street children in Casablanca, Marrakech, Fès and Mèknes. These children survive by selling cigarettes, begging, shining shoes, washing cars and working as porters and packers in ports.

The Ministry of Planning in Morocco estimates that there are between 60,000 and 100,000 petites bonnes in the country.[40] Studies commissioned by the Morocco government finds poverty and lack of school, often in combination, are primary causes of the little maids phenomenon in Morocco. Additionally, rural parents do not believe that an education or a diploma of any sort can help their girls find a job.

Nigeria
In 2006, there were about 15 million child labourers younger than age 14 in Nigeria. Many of these worked in hazardous conditions and for long hours. Poverty was the main driver of child labour, and the income of these children was a major part of their impoverished families income. Vast majority of child labour in Nigeria worked in agriculture and semi-formal or informal economy. Domestic servants were the least visible form of child labour, and often sexually harassed. Amongst informal economy and public places, street vending employed 64%. Midst informal enterprises in semipublic places, children were often observed as mechanics and bus conductors.

About 6 million of Nigeria’s children do not go to school at all. In the current conditions, these children do not have the time, energy or resources to go to school.

Rwanda
ILO estimates Rwanda has 400,000 child workers. Of these, 120,000 are thought to be involved in the worst forms of child labour and 60,000 are child domestic workers.

Zambia
The government of Zambia estimates there are some 595,000 child workers in the country. Of these, 58% are aged 14 or less. Many are employed in informal mining operations.

The United States Department of Labor estimated, in its 2010 report, about 33% of Zambian children aged 5–14 work. Agriculture is the dominant employer, and with mining employs 98% of all child labour in Zambia. The informal sectors witnessing the worst form of child labour include cotton plantations, tobacco, fishing, tea, coffee and charcoal. Child labour is common in mining. However, this is witnessed in small artisanal and traditional mines, where the children extract emeralds, amethyst, aquamarines, tourmalines and garnets. Child labour is also present in mines of lead, zinc and copper ores. They do not wear any protective equipment to protect their eyes or face or body; injuries are common.

Child trafficking for purposes of hazardous labour is prevalent in Zambia. Children in agriculture and domestic service are exchanged for money, goods and gifts to family members. Zambia has strict laws against trafficking and child labour. However, implementation and enforcement of its laws has proven to be difficult.

According to ILO, child labour in Zambia is a coping strategy for the children and families when adult breadwinners die, fall ill, or when families are simply unable to make ends meet.

Published by Centre for Young Africans

The Centre for Young Africans (CFYA) is built to help create and grow the average African children and youth to achieve their aspirations for change and sustainable growth.

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