SHE is seven-years-old but leads a disheartening lifestyle at ‘Kwa Join Poll-Lines’ in Lusaka’s unplanned Misisi Township.
While some of her friends are enjoying their childhood in various aspects, Comfort Mulumba (not real name) a grade one at Kamulanga Primary School works as hard as an adult.
Before she can embark on a long walk for the afternoon school shift which starts at 13:00 hours, she has to ensure that basic house chores are executed.
These include fetching water, cleaning the house, as well as picking up her younger siblings from a nearby community school.
Comfort, lives with her aunt who works as a maid in Makeni area and leaves home around 05:30 hours to her work place.
The aunt has no time to cook for the children and fetch water for household use, thus compelling Comfort to go to a nearby communal tap every morning with a wheel-barrow with about four 20 litre containers.
She endures standing long hours in the queue, and being harassed by adults, who take advantage of her age by fetching water before her turn even when they come after her.
She then struggles to push the wheel-barrow laden with heavy containers back home, with no one at hand to help her off-load the containers.
There are days when the borrowed wheel-barrow is being used by its owners, and young Comfort is forced to carry one container at a time on her head, meaning she needs more time to make several trips to and from the community tap.
By the time, she is done with some of the household chores, she is left with ‘spilt seconds’ in which to bath, and rush to school, in most cases on an empty stomach, with no pocket money to buy even a snack from the school tuck-shop!
Not too far away from Comfort’s home is nine-year-old Crispin Mwangala who has to assist his grand-mother selling fritters in the morning in order to earn his cut for the day which he uses to buy snacks as he heads to school in the afternoon.
He has to wake up early enough to ensure that he sells enough fritters to people who mostly buy them for breakfast.
These are just a few of many examples of children who have been denied their rights to enjoy their childhood, which should be eventful and full of blissful memories.
Some children, who accompany their parents working as domestic workers, are forced to assist their mothers with household chores at their places of work.
These children are engaged in cleaning, ironing, and in some cases cooking, in order to lighten the burden their parents encounter to earn enough to place food on their tables.
More children in Zambia are falling victim of many forms of child labour even without realising it is an infringement of their rights.
The phenomenon of using under age persons to undertake various tasks that should be undertaken by adults is not necessarily restricted to formal work places.
Farmsteads are typical examples where such activities occur and in some cases, perpetrators of child labour may not always be ignorant of the fact that their actions are illegal.
It is common to witness families, especially those in urban areas recruiting underage girls from the village to be engaged in domestic chores at no pittance or payment.
In most cases, this is done under the pretext of the child being taken to urban settings to be enrolled in school.
On farms and factories, the need to keep production costs as low as possible conflicts with the interests of children who may be engaged at exploitative rates, and working long hours.
However, the effects of harm done to these children over a period of time may be incalculable.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) define the term child labour as any activity, economic or non-economic performed by a child, that is either too dangerous or hazardous or for which the child is too young to perform and that has the potential to negatively affect his/her health, education, moral and normal development.
Child labour is threatening a number of both national and global aspirations aimed at improving people’s livelihoods and enhancing meaningful economic development.
The ILO’s Programme on Elimination of Child Labour estimates that around 215 million children were trapped in child labour worldwide, with the largest proportion of children in hazardous work in the Sub-Saharan Africa.
According to this survey, more than 13 million children, representing 30.8 per cent of the population at the time, were involved in hazardous work worldwide.
The survey also revealed that child labour is common in agriculture, small mining industries and generally in the informal economy, and the prevalence is much higher in rural and peri-urban settlements.
On the other hand, Zambia has made a number of important legal and political commitments towards combating child labour.
The Zambian Government signed the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, and ratified the ILO Convention number 138 in 1976 and ILO Convention 182 in 2002.
The Employment of Young Person’s and Children (EYPC) Act which regulates employment of young persons and children was amended in 2004 to bring it in line with these international legal standards.
However, despite these important commitments the country has made, challenges posed by child labour still remain rife in Zambia.
According to the volume on the Inter-Agency Report, an estimated 47 per cent of children between seven and 14 years, more than 1.2 million children in absolute terms were in employment in 2005.
Child labour does not only constitute a serious violation on the rights of the child, but also has clear consequences national and socio-economic development.
Besides the UNCRC, fundamental human rights enshrined in the country’s Constitution, as well as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which also enhance children’s rights.
Although there is no standard definition of a child in Zambia, the Penal Code defines a child as anyone below the age of 16 years, while the Intestate Succession Act defines a child as one aged from birth with no maximum age, while the Juvenile Act defines such as anyone below 19 years.
Because of this, there is need to harmonise Zambian legislation with signed and ratified international instruments.
Child Protection Unit (CPU) senior outreach officer, under the Zambia Police Service Glenda Mulenga explained that child protection refers to the activity that is undertaken to protect children’s rights, safeguarding and promoting their welfare.
By ratifying or acceding to these instruments, national governments commit themselves to protecting and ensuring children’s rights are upheld.
However, any legislation or policy aimed at curbing child labour can only be as good as the support it receives.
This means the enactment or laws, ratification of international instruments on their own are not enough to turn things around without implementation and enforcement.
This will not only require political will, but support from the all well meaning citizens.
While many organisations pride in working towards protecting the rights of children by eliminating child labour in communities, their work only bear fruit when it is able to make a difference in the lives of children such as Comfort.
By MIRIAM ZIMBA – Times of Zambia