COVID-19 Leaves A Legacy Of Rising Poverty, Widening Child Labour

COVID-19 has exacerbated child labor in Matabeleland. Image by Unsplash

BY GEORGINA SOKO | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | JAN 20, 2022

The long-lasting effects of COVID-19 have left children in Matabeleland North contending with deeper poverty and recent trends of child labour as more families struggle to make ends meet in a failing economy.

MATABELELAND NORTH (The Citizen Bulletin) — Yoliswa Dube (not real name) recoils in fear as her ‘madam’ lashes at her for daring to ask about her salary.

The 13-year-old Grade 7 dropout from Simatelele in Binga has gone for 5 months without pay.

She was brought into the mining town of Hwange by a family friend at the height of COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 to work as a maid, and promised a US$25 monthly salary.

“I was forced by poverty and pressure from my grandmother whom I lived with to look for a job in Hwange. Being the eldest girl I had no choice but to shoulder the weight of looking after my two siblings as young as I am,” she says.

Jonathan Dete (not real name) (14) from Makwandara area, some 50km away from Hwange also tells his story of how he slowly descends down the 64 metre deep mine shaft with only a torch and pick.

His two colleagues aged 13 and 19 years help lower him before they also join him in search of the tantalite mineral.

Dete and his 13 year old friend, Makomborero (Surname withheld) were ‘trafficked’ from Ngundu, Chivi district under Masvingo province after their families were told they would earn US$400 per month.

“At one point we indicated that we could not continue and wanted to leave but they coerced us to stay after giving us US$50 with a promise to give us more. We have been planning to run away but the problem is we need money to get back home,” Dete says.

Zimbabwe's laws such as the Labour Act prohibit employers from hiring a person under the age of 18.

Children in the age group of five to 14 are involved in economic activities due to poverty. Image by UNICEF Zimbabwe

The country has ratified a number of international conventions concerning child labour with the central government having established institutional mechanisms for the enforcement of laws and regulations on child labour.

Child psychologists say child labour has far-reaching effects on the development of children as they tend to miss out on education and other childhood activities.

Child rights activist, Anna Mandizha-Ncube says there is a need for comprehensive policies that cover all sectors of child protection.

“It is unfortunate that as parents we don’t see anything wrong especially given that culturally, the involvement of children in the family economy is generally regarded as acceptable,” Mandizha-Ncube says.

The Vendors Institute for Social and Economic Transformation in Zimbabwe has previously said over 20,000 children have turned to vending as a means of survival since the COVID-19 outbreak.

“This is driven by the misplaced notion by parents that it’s a way of training the children to become more responsible adults. So there is need for a deliberate mind-set change on Zimbabweans on the role of children in the society,” Mandizha-Ncube adds.

According to UNICEF, of Zimbabwe's 1.3 million orphans, some 100,000 are living on their own in child-headed households.

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Many such children are forced to leave school and find work as street vendors or labourers on tobacco farms, tea and sugar plantations, and in mines in order to support younger siblings.

Mandizha-Ncube says: “There should be an expansion of social policy programmes to cover more people by central  government through increasing the social protection budget to cater for growing numbers of families with children in need.”

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Social and Economic justice, Matabeleland South, COVID-19

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