Pemba — AS you approach Micheweni rural area from a distance you may see a considerable number of children breaking rocks into pebbles for sale.
At closer range, particularly, if they see a visitor preparing to take photograph, they run away! They return after some minutes of negotiation that you are not hunting for them! "We need to live, buy clothes, and other needs for school.
The only way is to work and help our poor parents," said 11-year-old Mohammed Haji who was packing pebbles in sacks ready for sale as he asked not to be photographed. Issa Nassor, 10, says he has to wake up early to work before it is too hot under the scorching sun, "it is quite challenging job, but we have to endure to survive."
About twenty children between the age 8 and 16 were engaged in different rocks breaking activities alongside their parents, mainly mothers, "we must work to eat and save money for treatment. If we sit and wait for the government's support which never comes on time, you die," explains Ms Fatma Kombo.
For most of the day, children are dressed in ragged clothes to work in the 'quarry.' Just after few minutes they turn white due to dust form the rocks, many are school drop outs, only few go to school and work during free time. Children are also found at Uandani, Kangagani, and Mwambe working or helping their parents in breaking rocks to get stones and white blocks.
The pebbles and blocks are sold to the increasing people demanding the materials for building. Mohamed and Issa are among the many children whose childhood has been stolen mostly probably by poverty and illiteracy. To survive, they all have to do some work with blessing of their parents.
The work may be hazardous for the children because their hands and legs are unprotected during the work, and most are either out of school or are 'chronic' absentees. They are always blaming poverty for the child labour, yet what they earn is just little for the day.
According to the head of the Environment Department in Pemba Mr Mwalimu Khamis Mwalimu, many children in Pemba are involved in child labour. "I do not have latest statistics, but it is evident at coastal rural areas that children are involved in the breaking stones and the making of blocks for building, seaweed farming, and fishing with boys slightly more than girls.
He said many of these children work through their families, and that although the child labour challenge is blamed on poverty, illiteracy also contributes to the problem and that awareness on the impact of child labour remains important. Primary education is compulsory in Zanzibar, and according to the ministry of education the Islands has done well in the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) No. 2: 'Achieve Universal Primary Education', by high enrolment rates of the children who need to go to school, but keeping the children to complete school has been a challenge. According to Mwalimu there have been fewer efforts by the members of the community in minimizing child labour in both urban and rural areas in Pemba Islands because it's done under the pretext of helping the family to overcome poverty, "this steadily harms their health, personality and education."
For the families and the children, the work they do is seen as profitable, earning less than one thousand shillings (between 700/- and 800/-) per bag, locally known as 'kipolo.' It takes the whole day for one to fill kipolo (used 50 kg bags of rice and flour). Many children at the sites are happy to earn the money in one day, but their parents admit that the work load is big, but have no alternative job to earn a living. Mwalimu says that new method are required help to combat child labour.
Mr Haroub Ali Suleiman, minister for Labour, Economic empowerment, and Cooperatives, has in several occasions decried child employment saying children are actually exploited because some employers find them cheaper and more docile. "We have set up strategies to fight child labour by encouraging parents to find acceptable income generating activities so that we can support them.
We want all children to be at school," said Suleiman. But Ms Zainab Omar Mohamed, minister for Social welfare, Youth, Children, and Women development, says that commitment and concerted efforts are required to protect children from all forms of abuse. He said that despite increased awareness and laws which prohibits employment of children, many children still work in dangerous circumstances and subject to different forms of abuse.
"The government has been trying to address problems through various programmes, including encouraging families not to force their children to work. But we need joint efforts to save children and make sure they remain at school," said Zainab. Child labour refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful.
This practice is considered exploitative by many international organisations. Legislations across the world prohibit child labour. These laws do not consider all work by children as child labour; there are exceptions which include supervised training.
UN-ILO definition of child labour is that it involves at least one of the following characteristics: Violates a nation's law on the minimum age for labour; for Zanzibar it is 16 years; threatens children's physical, mental, or emotional wellbeing; involves intolerable abuse, such as forced labour, and prevents children from going to school.
According to UNICEF, child labour refers to all children below 12 years of age working in any economic activities, those aged 12 to 14 years engaged in harmful work, and all children engaged in the worst forms of work. The worst forms involve children being enslaved, forcibly recruited, prostituted, trafficked, forced into illegal activities and exposed to hazardous work.
Globally, an estimated 246 million children are engaged in child labour. Of those, almost three quarters work in hazardous situations or conditions, such in mines, working with chemicals and pesticides in agriculture or working with dangerous machinery.