“Seeing children of my age going to school felt like torture. It really broke my heart and I would always hide in a nearby bush so that no one could see me herding cattle,” said Clement Mwale from Mukwela village, Kalomo district. Clement, aged eighteen (18) dreamt of becoming a teacher after completing school but his dreams were shattered when he stopped going to school at the age of seven (7). Clement did not have a normal childhood as he took up the role of supporting his family at an early age. Instead of being in school, in 2006 Clement found himself working at a tobacco farm where he was herding cattle. He lost the important years of his life just for a paltry ZMK150 which he earned every month and would use it to buy food for his family.
Clement says he dropped out of school just when he was in grade two (2) as his parents could not afford to pay for his fees. Coming from a family of seven, the story was the same for Clement’s siblings. They would be enrolled in school but would drop out as there was no money to keep them in school. Clement’s two-year stint in school was characterised by absenteeism as he was always being sent away for failing to pay school fees. He says he was constantly ridiculed by other students as he never had a proper uniform. “There were a number of times when my parents were summoned to accompany me to school but they would never take heed. When I stopped going to school, they never said anything and just like my other siblings, I started working,” explained Clement. However, the year 2016 brought so much joy in Clement’s life. He heard about a project which our partner, Support for Poverty Reduction in Zambia (SPRIZ) was implementing in Kalomo district focused on ending child labour. SPRIZ discovered that children under the school going age in Kalomo were exposed to health hazards by working in tobacco farms due to lack of education sponsorship. Thus, SPRIZ worked with Community Child Labour Committees (CCLC) to identify school dropouts that were working in farms. This saw Clement being rescued and sent back to school. He is now attending school at Mukwela Basic School and despite his age, he is in grade four (4). He says learning with younger pupils has not been easy but he is adjusting. An ecstatic Clement says going back to school has rekindled his dream of becoming a teacher. This is just one example of children who have been denied their rights to enjoy their childhood, which should be eventful and full of blissful memories. Apart from Clement, SPRIZ rescued 57 children from child labour in Kalomo in 2016 and also enrolled them back into school.
SPRIZ said most of the former child labourers who had been integrated into the school belonged to families whose financial difficulties prompted them to send their children to work instead of school. “The children, who are from poor households, were mostly working as paid labourers for purposes of supplementing their family income. The children, who were aged between 8 and 13 years, received support in form of school uniforms, shoes and books. There was jubilation as the children received the support with the visibly overjoyed parents expressing their gratitude for the support,” SPIRZ said. The Headmaster for Mukwela Basic School, Mr Mungala said the school assessed the pupils and placed them in appropriate grades. “We assessed the knowledge level and tried to bridge the gap between what they know and what they need to know at their age. Despite having missed out on school, most of the pupils are slowly picking up. However, some of them are bullies but it’s our duty as the school to work with the parents and help build these children” said the Headmaster. The headmaster explained that the major reason which had seen a lot of pupils dropping out of school was the lack of financial resources. “The pupils are expected to pay K70 project fees for the whole year but most parents cannot afford. As a school, we have come up with a plan that allows parents to pay fees in form of bringing pit sand, river sand or moulding bricks for the school,” Mr Mungala explained.
Mr Mungala said the SPRIZ project had helped in changing attitudes as most families did not consider education as valuable. “Some parents did not understand what child labour is all about but now they understand the clear distinction between child work and child labour,” Mr Mungala added. Kalomo District Education Standards Officer, Shirley Mbozi urged SPRIZ to continue with their programmes, stating that child labour was a social issue and there was need to keep sensitising the communities on the importance of keeping children in school. 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.