HARARE – Zimbabwe has been ranked one of the top 10 countries where child labour is most prevalent, according to an international report.
A new report by risk analysis firm Maplecroft which ranked 197 countries identified Eritrea, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Yemen as the 10 places where child labour was most prevalent in the world.
Zimbabwe was ranked eighth by Maplecroft.
The ranking was evaluated by the frequency and severity of reported child labour incidents, as well as tracking how governments prevent child labour and ensure perpetrators are held accountable.
Local child activists were outraged yet not surprised by the ranking of Zimbabwe by the international report.
However, they said that children toiling in dangerous and dirty conditions, missing out on education and other basic rights is unacceptable.
Edna Masanga, the executive director of the Girl Child Network, said she was appalled by the high levels of child labour in Zimbabwe, but it was not surprising that Zimbabwe has been named one of the 10 countries where child labour was rampant.
“If we look at the number of girls who are engaged as domestic workers for reasons of exploitations, it is too high,” Masanga said. “If you go around the market, it’s mostly children working. Child labour is common in Zimbabwe and it has become acceptable. People and society are to blame for this ranking.”
Pascal Masocha, national coordinator of the Coalition against Child Labour in Zimbabwe, said the rise in child labour was worrying.
“Owing to the decay in the educational system and the collapse of the economy, where many people lost their jobs and cannot afford to pay school fees for their children, the next destination for these children is child labour,” Masocha said.
He said increasing access to education and creating child labour free zones was the only solution to the prevailing problem.
“We need to concentrate in all forms of child labour instead of worst forms of child labour,” Masocha said.
“When this is done, we resuscitate the economy and education sector will improve the lives of the children.”
According to a 2010 UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) report, 13 percent of Zimbabwean children are engaged in child labour which the International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines as work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally harmful to children and that interferes with their schooling.
In Harare, the figure is closer to 20 percent, according the Coalition against Child Labour in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe’s Labour Act prohibits employers from hiring a person under 18 to perform hazardous work and the Children’s Act makes it an offence to exploit children through employment.
Poverty was the main driver of children being employed, along with the breakdown of the family unit due to HIV and Aids, as well as the inadequacy of the social services delivery system.
Of Zimbabwe’s 1,5 million orphans, some 100 000 are living on their own in child-headed households.
Many such children are forced to leave school and find work as street vendors or labourers on tobacco farms, tea and sugar plantations to support younger siblings, according to Unicef.