Featured Human Rights

Introduction to the Series Child Labour in Malawi: Perspectives of Child Labour in Malawi

This article serves as introduction to a six-part series by author Desmond Mhango focusing on child labour in Malawi.

The subject of child labour is a huge concern amongst policyholders and the public in Malawi. Unfortunately, a lot more is talked about amongst communities of practice than the redress put in place. Segments of interventions are streamlined to institutions recognised as labour-engaging, that are resourced, and rarely would be for other institutions with wider constituencies of programs on child protection. In Malawi, the state or government legislates, regulates, and structures to provide services for child labour. It is largely supported by the International Labour Organisation of the United Nations (UN ILO). Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) or Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) exist and contribute to fostering compliance with statutes and policy frameworks of the state while at the same time providing checks on the state as policymakers. 

Child labour may risk being construed to imply the employment of children. In Malawi, child labour is a highly technical expression – a jargon only known to the educated and strategic policyholders in a strategic labour or employment sector. In the native setting and traditions, child work comes into the application. In this case, a child must be able to practice any form of work in his or her upbringing because growing up must prepare boys and girls to become independent, useful, and productive adults in their future lives. Therefore, children will have to attempt to work on anything at their disposal because they might meet the sort of jobs in their adulthood. The question of poverty, as a major push factor, argued in many studies should be considered a relative reason unless melt down to its particles. Only sympathy will attempt to exempt a child from undertaking burdening work for reasons that it now is being seen to be a burden.

Confusion arises when child labour is diluted by its further breaking down to mean child work, forced labour, hazardous work, etc. as put in various legal and policy instruments and guidelines. In contrast, child work implies work acceptable to being done by children, as may be by the statutes or policies and by way of the nativity of societal social norms inherent in practice and beliefs. 

However, Malawi society has realised that living in the 21st Century cannot be the same as living in the 20th Century due to differing dynamics in the living environment. Governance in the modern world is heavily controlled by sets of codified rules and principles. 

Child Labour in Perspective

Child labour is a practice accepted by society in which children are engaged in formal and informal circles. On the one hand, formal means prescribed jobs and conditions of service. On the other hand, informal is working as per assigned by the recruiter. Child labour has been used as a mode of training people while still young to help them manage their future perspective although not everyone shall be what adults of today can imagine. 

Child labour should be banned so that nobody below 18 years of age should be employed. Society should see all children in school and responsibly in the classroom. The education system should be compulsory and free as directed under the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi (section 23(f)). Exceptions should only be for purposes of training but where such options provide eminent protection of children by professional instruction and supervision.

The state ought to understand that not all children will grow to pursue the same lifeline carrier therefore various pathways be the exposure to informed choices of children mirroring their future perspective as well as the benefit of their cognitive learning through formal and informal interactions with their peer groups and adults too. The education system should introduce carrier lessons and opportunities for innovativeness. These carrier lessons must be acknowledged by the state structures and systems at macro and micro levels of state governance as Malawi follows a decentralised democratic governance system of two layers. It consists of Central Government and downwards to Local Government which may be known as City Council, Municipal Council, District Council, or Town Council.  

Innovations can motivate children to enrol in school and sustain themselves especially when rewards can be noticed at all times. Systemised formal and informal education and socialisation through recreation for children and youth would open up a variety of options for children and youth to identify other carrier paths based on talent, ability, potentiality, and interests in an associated carrier path that could be nurtured into a professional or skill that will help the person earn a living from it e.g. the case of sports, and art.

Child labour in households is practised unnoticed as such, due to tradition and lack of knowledge about the law and the rights of the child to protection. As found to be common with rural populous, children will work up as early in the morning of each day to work on the family farm plot before they go to school. Children perform assignments that are over their ages and at the wrong time when they should have been in school or should have been resting or should have gone to socialize. 

Special Moments of Child Labour

In dealing with child labour, special moments should be considered such as follows.

The Girl Child in Child Labour: 

A girl child in that household setup will add to performing household chores when a boy child will wait to be provided with food so he will go to school a little earlier. Teachers won’t spare children from punishments attributable to child labour. 

Children Trafficked for Purposes of Labour: 

Child trafficking is a grave concern as a child protection matter but like matters of child labour for which are trafficked. Unfortunately. Children are mostly trafficked from Southern Region to work in the Central Region and Northern Region on farms or at home and as cattle herders. Many work in urban settings such as Cities, Municipal Councils, Town Councils, and District Councils. They have been observed as working endlessly on farms over years without even returning to their homes of origin, have not been paid or gotten too little pay to take them back home yet are overworked and may survive on little food against hard work. 

It may be by way of trafficking or migration that children have found themselves in urban areas or Cities and towns in which they are employed to sell little merchandise such as bakings, sweets and biscuits, and clothes and will be asking for alms on the streets to benefit their masters and mistresses, and at times their parents and guardians.

Child Prostitution:

Child prostitution is a growing practice in which children are employed by mostly elderly women or their powerful peers with an urge in age and experience in prostitution. The children are managed by mostly female employers and kept in isolated houses operating like brothels which are marketed and supplied to men for sex from which proceeds are provided to their employers. These children are all over in nightclubs and bars at night. They will be between 12 years and 17 years, as per the definition of a child, and adolescents below 21 years of age as per the interests of the CCPJA in providing for the extension of the application of the child act, section 183 which states, “A court may, on application or on its own motion, extend the application of this Act to persons that are above 18 years of age but below 21 years of age”. 

In the upcoming articles each Friday, the author will share more about the importance of recognising and addressing the different forms of child labour in Malawi, including child trafficking, the exploitation of young girls, and child prostitution, to protect the rights and well-being of all children. In next Friday’s article, he’ll examine the situational context of child labour in Malawi. 


  • Desmond Mhango

    Desmond Nyuma Mhango is the Executive Director of the Malawian NGO Centre for Youth and Children’s Affairs (CEYCA). He has been working on child protection and children's rights for the past twenty-six years. Child Labour is one of the child protection concerns he has been working on over the years at the grassroots and at policy levels.

By Desmond Mhango

Desmond Nyuma Mhango is the Executive Director of the Malawian NGO Centre for Youth and Children’s Affairs (CEYCA). He has been working on child protection and children's rights for the past twenty-six years. Child Labour is one of the child protection concerns he has been working on over the years at the grassroots and at policy levels.

One reply on “Introduction to the Series Child Labour in Malawi: Perspectives of Child Labour in Malawi”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *