Parly endorses 10 year jail term for child labour

Chris Mahove

The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare has endorsed a 10 year-jail sentence for child-labour violations in the proposed Labour Amendment Bill.

Presenting the committee’s report on public consultations on the Bill (HB14, 2021) in Parliament last Thursday, Committee chairperson, Emma Ncube said it had been observed that Child labour was still rampant in some parts of the country, especially in agricultural plantation areas.

She said this could be partly attributed to lack of Government support for vulnerable children such as orphans and child headed families.

“The Committee strongly supports Clause 7 which provides stiffer penalties for perpetrators of child labour from level 7 or 2 years to level 12 or 10-years imprisonment. In this regard, the Committee calls upon the government to provide adequate support for vulnerable children,” she said.

However, independent Member of Parliament for Norton, Temba Mliswa called for further elaboration on the issue of forced and child labour, noting the proposed law posed the danger of disrupting cultural norms and values where children were inducted to work at a young age.

I am a farmer and I want my children to understand farming. We also talk about age, child labour. I want my son to know how to operate a tractor at the age of 10 years because I also believe you must catch them while they are young so that they can understand how the farm works. The question now is, is that forced labour; is that child labour? We need to be very careful because today’s lack of us being keen – the success of the former white farmers in agriculture was that they taught the children whilst they were young,” he queried.

He added; “I have got some of my children who are not academically gifted and yet from a manual point of view they are quite handy. You would want them to also play their role and be successful in that regard. How do we handle that because it is not clear? I gave an example of a parent who says to his son or daughter – even the mothers use their daughters to wash plates and cook. Is that also child labour Mr. Speaker?”

Mliswa said there was need to understand that there was also culture, tradition and heritage, adding the country risked doing away with its culture because of labour issues?

“It is quite contentious because our culture and tradition believes in you teaching these people and they are one. We had our sisters cooking for us when they were 12 years old. How do you define that? We must be pretty clear because if we do not do that, a lot of parents will go to jail unintentionally,” he said.

According to the Bureau of International Labour Affairs 2020 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, the Government of Zimbabwe did not publicly release information on its criminal law enforcement efforts, and law enforcement agencies lacked resources to enforce child labour laws.

The report noted that there were still gaps in the country’s legal framework against child labour, including the prohibition of commercial sexual exploitation of children.

It said although Zimbabwe made moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, children were still subjected to the worst forms of child labour.

“The government enacted the Education Amendment Act, which raised the legal compulsory education age to 16. It also significantly expanded the Basic Education Assistance Module to provide assistance with school expenses to over 950,000 orphans and vulnerable children, while providing humanitarian assistance allowances for vulnerable families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, children are subjected to worst forms of child labour, including in commercial sexual exploitation, mining, and tobacco production, each sometimes as a result of human trafficking,” read the report.

The report noted that children also engaged in child labour in agriculture, including in the harvesting of sugarcane.

“Deteriorating economic conditions, cholera outbreaks, drought, and food shortages likely make children more vulnerable to child labour. Zimbabwean children living in border towns are trafficked to South Africa, Mozambique, and Zambia, where they become victims of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour in domestic work,” it noted

It also noted that some families recruited rural children, especially orphans, to work in cities, often with promises of education or adoption and ended up subjecting them to domestic service or forcing them to work in mining, drug smuggling, or other illegal activities, with girls under the age of 18 being subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, particularly along major transit corridors and in mining areas.

“Children ages 12 to 17 work on tobacco farms, performing activities such as planting, weeding, harvesting, packing, and grading tobacco, tasks that often expose them to toxic chemicals and the effects of nicotine from handling tobacco leaves. Children also work on sugar plantations in the south-eastern part of the country, where they wield dangerous tools and endure high temperatures,”

Meanwhile the Parliamentary Committee noted that the Bill was a progressive piece of legislation which sought to sanitise the labour sector and align the country’s labour laws with the Constitution and international best practices.

The committee however, noted  several grey areas that needed special attention and called on  parliament and the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare to give due diligence to all the raised observations and recommendations so as to transform Zimbabwe’s labour sector towards the achievement of National Vision 2030.

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