My heart sank when l saw young children ankle-deep in water fishing as we were crossing Lubu river in Chinsali, Muchinga province. I decided to stop to have a closer look. My colleagues tried to discourage me as the area was swampy but I was not dissuaded. I quickly folded my dress and moved closer to the river bank. Sensing the presence of a stranger, the children clutched their fishing baskets and ran away. However, two girls who appeared to be older than the rest remained behind. I called them and with naughty giggles they came and spoke to me.
This was in Mandona community in Chinsali, where our grant partner, God Visits Orphans (GVO) has been working on an initiative aimed at reducing incidences of child labour and promoting the free primary education policy.
Precious and Joyce (not their real names) both eleven years old said they were fishing not by choice but in order to earn money and help their families.
“At times we go to school but we are always here fishing. This is our relish and we sell some when we have excess. We came here in the morning and we will only go back in the evening,” said Precious.
Adding on, Joyce said her parents could not afford sending her to school thus she had resorted to fishing.
Despite all the negative effects of child labour, community leaders helplessly watch the trend go on unabated. Earlier on, at a community engagement meeting which was held by GVO, the headmen for Mandona community, Francis Hambana said child labour was rife in the area as most families were struggling to pay school fees for their children.
“The pupils are expected to pay 20 Kwacha a term as school fees, but the parents hardly pay because they don’t have the money. If you go to Lubu river you can find children fishing. It’s a practice that we have been discouraging over the years but parents continue to send their children for fishing,” said Francis.
His views were also echoed by Gwen Kasomo who said she had stopped sending her children to school because she did not have money.
“I have three children and I have no money to keep them in school. Apart from the 20 Kwachas, they are supposed to buy their own books, but the problem is that no one has the money to buy books,” Gwen said.
These are just a few of many examples of children who have been denied their right to enjoy their childhood, which should be filled with blissful memories. More children in Zambia are falling victim of many forms of child labour even without realising it is an infringement of their rights.
Working with community leaders, GVO has been encouraging communities to engage their councilors, Members of Parliament, and District Education Board Secretary (DEBS) offices to ensure that children are not sent away from school for failing to pay money for school projects.
“In the communities we have been working in, we have realized that people are clueless about the free education policy thus we have moved a step further than just condemning child labour. We are pushing for the implementation of the free education policy. Zambia has made a number of important legal and political commitments towards combating child labour but without access to free education, we will still be talking about child labour for years to come. We believe that access to education is crucial in keeping children in school,” said GVO Director.
Child labour threatens a number of both national and global aspirations aimed at improving people’s livelihoods and enhancing meaningful economic development. Much more work needs to be done in Zambia to combat this vice but with organisations like GVO taking the lead, great progress can be made.