‘Millions victims of child labour’

A researcher, Dr Helene Aiello, of Khulisa Management Services, told a conference on Reducing Exploitative Child Labour in South Africa last week that an estimated 32.5 percent of children in the country are victims of the scourge.

“The government of South Africa estimated that 32.5 percent of children aged five to 14 years were working in 1999.

“Between 248 000 and three million children are engaged in exploitative child labour in South Africa,” Aillo said.

The revelations have put massive pressure on the government to clamp down on the scourge, which has been severely criticised by the United Nations and the International Labour Organisation.

Dr Aiello said her findings were based on research work done in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province, particularly in the Nkomazi region where farm labour is most common.

“The most common types of work done by South African children are fetching wood or water, followed by farm work ‘ which can be classified as exploitative work if it prevents the children from attending school,” she said.

According to Aiello’s research report, many children in rural areas are forced to work in order to ensure their and their families’ survival.

The situation has been considerably worsened by the HIV/Aids pandemic, which has left many children without adults to look after them, forcing them to seek desperate means of survival.

The research conducted by Aiello took the responses of 2 600 children between the ages of 12 and 17 in the Mpumalanga area, who provided information about life in their villages, at home and in school.

Her presentation indicated that 95 percent of the children who responded to the questionnaire said that they were required to do some kind of work at different times of the day.

The “work” ranged from domestic chores such as cooking, cleaning and doing the washing, to looking after livestock and fetching water and firewood. At least 60 percent of these children were paid for the work that they did.

She said child labour was often hidden or denied due to a variety of reasons. These included fear of losing income or payment-in-kind benefits.

She found that parents also put pressure on their children to continue working in order to increase their family income.

As part of her recommendations, Aiello suggested that free and quality basic education for the most disadvantaged children be implemented “as a matter of urgency” as the ongoing land reform programme risked worsening the situation.

“As more and more people get land, they will be required to work it and to do that, labour is an essential requirement. It is our hope that by reversing this trend and making education available to these children we will be able to work towards putting an end to this problem,” she said.

Other recommendations included the transformation of legislation governing schools, which she said should also be changed to make it compulsory to investigate why children did not attend school. The Department of Labour must also play a greater role to investigate complaints of child labour.

Agriculture policies with regard to safe working conditions for children employed on farms must be reviewed for compliance with legislation.

The law states that if an employer is found to be employing a child below the age of 15 years in work that is detrimental to their growth, that person will be charged with a criminal act.

July 2006
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