Windhoek — CHILD labour and trafficking has become a problem in Namibia and needs to be be tackled head on, a national summit in Windhoek decided on Wednesday.
Delegates to the first ever national conference on child labour were told that Zambian girls as young as 12 years are trafficked to the Caprivi Region with the promise of going to school, but find themselves exploited as domestic workers instead.
Boys of school-going age from Zambia and Angola are brought in to herd cattle in northern Namibia.
Children are also used by adults to commit crimes, while sexual exploitation of teenage girls in return for food, money for school fees and school uniforms are on the increase.
This is linked in part to HIV-AIDS, which is resulting in more children becoming orphans. There are about 450 000 children between the ages of six and 18 in Namibia.
About 72 500 of them (16 per cent) work for pay, profit or family gain, according to available statistics. About 23 per cent of rural children work, compared to 2,3 per cent of children living in towns.
About 40 000 working children in Namibia are below the age of 14 years.
The conference decided that a policy be mapped out and a national body be set up to dovetail activities in order to curb child labour and to co-ordinate with various Government ministries like Labour, Education, Gender Equality and Child Welfare.
"It is necessary to make a distinction between children's work activities that are normal and aid the social development of children on the one hand and harmful, exploitative child labour," Alfeus !Naruseb, Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, told delegates.
"Despite legal and policy frameworks established in an independent Namibia and our commitment to international conventions in that regard, the worst forms of child labour unfortunately exist in our country, albeit in small numbers," he said.
"Research conducted in preparation for this conference revealed serious weaknesses in implementing existing policies and in co-ordinating programmes," !Naruseb added.
Namibia will work with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the US government and Reclisa (Reducing Exploitative Child Labour in Southern Africa) to address the problem.
Experts at the conference said they had found a Namibian girl in the Omaheke Region, aged 16, who works as a prostitute for her uncle.
"I have been living here for four years and work for him as a commercial sex worker since two years and I also do household chores," the girl is quoted as having told the experts.
The uncle apparently organises the 'clients' who pay the girl N$50 for sex.
According to the girl, her uncle takes most of the money and only leaves a small amount for her.
"Besides the little money, I get food and a place to stay from my uncle."
According to its own report, Reclisa and another organisation, Africare, prevented 1 792 orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) from becoming victims of child labour.
It established Cope Clubs (Care, Protection and Empowerment) at several schools.