Forbidding is not enough: child labor in africa, africa, dw

Housekeeping, plantation work, prostitution: Many children in Africa have to work – and are thus deprived of their childhood. Most are of primary school age. Experts warn: prohibitions alone will not help.

Fatoumata was only twelve when she left her village in Mali to look for work in the city. Education was not a priority for her parents, but instead it was time to get up early in the morning to do the dishes for a strange family, make breakfast, and take the kids to school. The work of a mother or father performed by a child. "I’ve been doing this job for four years. In the various families I worked in, there was often not enough food and no good place to sleep, I was insulted by my employers", tells the 16-year-old Fatoumata. "For my salary of up to 10,000 CFA francs (€ 15.25, editor’s note) to get, I had to endure all the pain in the world. Sometimes I went back to my parents’ village empty-handed."

Fatoumata is not an isolated case. All over the world, children are forced to do life-threatening jobs that endanger their health, safety, and moral development. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of children who have to work is higher than anywhere else in the world. A fifth of all African children, approximately 72.1 million, are affected. (For comparison, almost 80 million children live in Europe.) Over half of them are still under the age of 11, which makes Africa’s children the youngest child workers in the world on average.

Forced labor, prostitution, gold mines

Child labor has many faces. "This also includes dangerous, exploitative or physically demanding work", explains Ninja Charbonneau of the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF. "Forced labor, prostitution and working in gold mines are just a few examples." Most of the children in Africa work in agriculture and animal husbandry, around eight million children work like Fatoumata in the service sector and almost three million in industry. Child labor is often unpaid and most work in small family businesses.


152 million children have to work


152 million children have to work

"The damage the children suffer is enormous, it means an end to their childhood", says Charbonneau. "The children cannot grow up normally and carefree, as is actually their right. This often leads to them not going to school. And this vicious circle solidifies." Because without education, children would find it harder to get well-paid jobs later. "This means that they have less chance of getting out of poverty, and that continues for generations."

Minimum working age of 15 years

Like Fatoumata, thousands of young girls in Mali leave their homes to go to the big cities. That explains Diallo Assitan Fofana, chairman of the association for the promotion and protection of the labor rights of women and children in Mali. "They are migrant workers who work in the households of large cities to help their parents in the villages and to take care of themselves. Many of them are minors, have not been to school or have dropped out." The International Labor Organization of the United Nations (ILO) worldwide prescribes a minimum working age of 15 years. However, the international standard is often only partially implemented in national law. In Botswana, Eritrea, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda, for example, the minimum age protection does not apply to children outside formal employment relationships.

Africa’s fight against child labor seems to be stagnating: According to UNICEF surveys, the number of cases increased from 2012 to 2016 – despite targeted measures by African governments."Many factors play a role here", says Charbonneau, "but above all it is the economically sluggish development of many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Another factor is conflict. In conflict countries we observe that the proportion of children who have to work usually increases." Whether in Mali, Somalia or Sudan: increasing poverty is forcing children to help ensure the family’s livelihood. "Families are displaced and no longer have their normal income, or the main earner has been killed or separated from the rest of the family."

Conflicts and poor economic conditions favor child labor: Coltanmine in the Eastern Congo

Education and fair working conditions

By 2025, the United Nations has committed to end child labor. "But it is clear that we are not fast enough at the moment", said Charbonneau. And just changing the law is not enough: "Prohibiting child labor in general is not enough. If the family is dependent on income and is otherwise left with nothing, then perhaps they have not done them a favor at first." Instead, the entire environment and general working conditions would have to be changed.

Charbonneau names four approaches: "The first is to create effective legislation to ban child labor in its most severe form, and to enforce this ban." Second, the circumstances for families as a whole should improve: "For example, there must be social security in the event that both parents are unemployed. parents need fair job opportunities and fair pay so that the children don’t have to work at all." There should also be free, high-quality educational opportunities for the children to stay in school.

Thirdly, it is about a social rethink, says Charbonneau: "It should be noted that child labor remains a problem and that it is harmful to children’s development. And the fourth thing is that companies also have to make a big and important contribution, and more so than before."

Heavy physical work must first be effectively abolished, says UNICEF

Little progress at national level

But there is also progress, says Ariane Genthon. She works for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as a program officer for child labor in agriculture. "Always more Governments and industries in agriculture are taking action to address child labor in agriculture", says Genthon. "But that’s a complex problem. And therefore it cannot be solved with individual measures, or only by one state. Coordinated efforts are needed to combat child labor."

Child labor is declining – but too slowly

Almost every tenth child is a child laborer

According to Unicef, 152 million children worldwide still have to work to help their families survive. Most of them live in Africa and Asia. Overall, child labor has decreased worldwide: in 2000, 246 million children were affected – but the decline is slowing.

Child labor is declining – but too slowly

What is child labor?

Unicef ​​defines child labor as "Activities for which children are too young or which are dangerous or exploitative, which damage mental development or which prevent children from attending school". This is what it says in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Child labor is declining – but too slowly

Rise in sub-Saharan Africa

The number of child workers in the Asia and Pacific region has dropped particularly sharply, and is also falling in Latin America. In Sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, child labor seems to have increased again in recent years. The UN Children’s Fund has cited sluggish economic development and a growing number of armed conflicts and natural disasters as the reason.

Child labor is declining – but too slowly

Working on the run

There is also an increase in child labor among refugees. The longer the flight takes, the greater the likelihood that the children will have to work. Because their families mostly lost everything when they fled and have to look for new ways to survive.

Child labor is declining – but too slowly

Hard work

For example, in 2017 hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled Myanmar to Bangladesh from persecution and exclusion and have since lived in emergency shelters. There the children have to support their families – sometimes with very physically demanding work.

Child labor is declining – but too slowly

Sewing instead of learning

Many Syrian refugee children also have to work, like this boy in a textile factory in Turkey. Many Syrian children work there more than ten hours a day. Unicef ​​wants to take action against refugee child labor with educational programs in crisis areas.

Child labor is declining – but too slowly

What to do about child labor?

In order to fundamentally end child labor, aid organizations see it above all the governments on the train: They would have to enforce compulsory education and also legally adjust the minimum age for admission to work to the end of compulsory education. State regulators need to be strengthened and employers who exploit children punished, say "terre des hommes".

Child labor is declining – but too slowly

Education as the key

"In order to effectively protect children from exploitation, the living conditions of the children affected must change", says Christian Schneider, managing director of Unicef ​​Germany. Unicef ​​is therefore calling for more investment in education as well as health and social security systems.

Child labor is declining – but too slowly

Combat the causes of child labor more intensely

If the decline in child labor continues at the current pace, Unicef ​​estimates that 121 million girls and boys will still be affected by child labor in 2025. The UN’s goal of abolishing child labor by 2025 is therefore a long way off.

Author: Charlotte Voß

After all: Countries like the Ivory Coast, Mali and Rwanda have already legally strengthened child safety at work, other governments have appointed new committees or working groups. In 2017, the Gambian Ministry of Social Affairs set up a National Coordination Committee for Child Labor. In Benin, a new government anti-trafficking working group organized a workshop to develop a national anti-trafficking policy, action plan and guidelines for data collection. And Mali raised the minimum age for work to 15 years and expanded the list of dangerous jobs or activities prohibited to children.

Assistance: Mahamadou Kane

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