Desmond Mhango concludes his series on Child Labour in Malawi with this final article.
In this final article of the series Child Labor in Malawi, the author describes his own experience as Executive Director of the Malawian NGO Centre for Youth and Children’s Affairs (CEYCA) and expresses his own opinion, having previously discussed the situational context of child labour in Malawi, including a depiction of the places and practices where child labour occurs, and highlighting the push factors that contribute to child labour in Malawi.
The state party should take steps to anchor all other legislations and policies on child rights and child welfare into the principle child law to guarantee child protection, survival, growth and development.
The State Party Malawi should ensure it builds all its momentous on its progressive gain regarding good legislation and policy environment as it worked out the urgent need for their anchorage in a principal law, the CCPJA of 2010.
The State Party must adhere fully to its child laws rather than selectively. To achieve this, the State Party should consider implementing Compulsory free primary education and designate an officer from the district council to sit in a child office, as outlined in CCPJA of 2010. This officer, known as Secretary for Child Affairs (SCA), plays a functional role that other departments should recognise and cooperate with fully. Failure to designate an SCA would hold the state accountable for denying children their legal rights and access to public services. Children must benefit from legal compliance to improve their access to these services.
Disputes emanating from the employment of children ought to be treated under criminal jurisprudence unless the matters are welfare concerns.
Raising awareness among government officials, communities, and other groups responsible for children’s well-being about their rights as well as promoting consistent messaging about child rights would help empower everyone involved in preventing child labour. This will enable them to keep a close eye on any potential instances of child labour.
It must start with the UN to harmonise policies appreciating the critical role of UNICEF on diversity or interdependence of the rights of children, the splits of other conventions and protocols sitting with other UN Agencies with disregard to the probability of a principal Convention or protocol. This is how the UN can provide valuable guidance and advice on policy to Malawi as a state party.
Case studies of Undocumented Child Labour Forms
In addition to the topics previously discussed, there are other issues that are relevant concerning Child Labour Malawi, permitting the author to express his impressions of undocumented child labour forms as Executive Director of the Malawian NGO Centre for Youth and Children’s Affairs (CEYCA). The Girl Child in Prostitution and Child Labour at Child-Headed Households shed light on the harsh realities faced by vulnerable children in Malawi.
The Girl Child in Prostitution:
At some point in 2022, a Minister responsible for child affairs, MoGCDSW, inspected an international entertainment centre in Lilongwe City and was astonished at the number of young girls she found working as employees or night club patrons for prostitution. Of course, the law (Penal Code) prohibits prostitution but the practice has allowed it as the country has seen growing associations of prostitutes legally registered or not in the context of expressed exercise of the right to association provided for in the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi. It is a grave mistake to recruit or engage children in the business as in itself it violates the rights of these children who lack capacities to make informed decisions. The children take massive risks in their lives against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as children would be without capacities to negotiate for sex in a condom.
As for children working in commercial sex, it means working for too long hours, undertaking hazardous work with risks to personally harm their life, bearing the burden of serving adult men, and a hazard to education persuasion as the evolving capacities of the child are compromised. They are exposed to drugs, alcohol, and drugs that have lifelong effects on them, and to the life of thugs.
Child Labour at Child-Headed Households:
Where underage sisters and brothers become parents, it becomes naturally the case that grown-up brothers and sisters become guardians of fellow siblings. But then, circumstances dictate this belief and practice. Again, the overall traditional package of a social support fabric or system set up prevents child-headed households and the consequences therein. CEYCA documented the experiences of a ten-year-old girl in rural Mchinji District. The mother abandoned the children for marrying another man who did not want her children. Although the children lived in the same home village as their mother, nobody else took the responsibility of caring for them even when they got sick, save for a chief who would at times come to see the kids.
When CEYCA became aware of the situation, it was discovered that some of the children’s relatives who lived nearby had been attempting to take away their land. This happened because their mother had not visited them for almost a year. Everyone in the children’s family appeared sick because often they didn’t have food. Nobody took responsibility to even get them to a hospital because the three-year-old had to attend an Under-five clinic. On rare occasions, some other members of the village would play well by advising the ten-year-old girl to take the young boy to the hospital and Under-five Health Care Clinic lying over 15 kilometres away. She walked that distance. They lived in a dilapidated small house which leaked when it rained and they would fully soak in water that day and or night.
As a result of over-burdening roles, the brother dropped from school and worked each day to ensure he brought home food. He would split what he sold for income, yet securing wood was a mammoth task. His sister would do the cooking and all household chores. She never socialised with peers for what appeared to be due to avoidance of shame and lacking apparatus therefore quarantined. She had to leave school to take care of her parental responsibilities at home, and she also lacked social support to continue with her education. It’s worth noting that the District Council had a Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP) in place.
The author’s opinion of the series is premised on exposure to practices and textbook expectations that may be found in legal and policy frameworks. It should have been noticed, going through the article series, of discrepancies between the realities of life of child labour and the envisaged redress. Child labour is a broader subject matter than often it is discussed, yet the national state of preparedness to manage prevention and redress response is weak. It may be argued that state negligence evidenced in under-resourcing to end child Labour to established institutions in the form of materials and equipment, financing, technical ability, systemisation, and legal and policy coherency contributes to child Labour in Malawi. Malawi, as a United Nations (UN) State Party, has the responsibility of submitting State Party Reports to the Human Rights Council through the Committee of the Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCRC). The State Party must submit reports to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which is a peer-review mechanism. As a State Party to the African Union, Malawi has to submit reports to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (AU ACHPR) through a specially established Committee of Experts of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children (AU ACERWC). In both scenarios, the State Party receives Concluding Observations and Recommendations for improvement in complying with the Convention and the Charter. Both treaties bear articles on child labour and yet the United Nations International Labour Organisation’s (UN ILO) Labour Conventions and Protocols fall short of embracing comprehensivity of the human rights of children as embedded into the rights of child workers or employees, serve for the List of Hazardous Works or Decent Works for Children.