Zimbabwe's Ailing Economy Fuelling Child Labour

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"While the law is clear on child labour, policing is the problem because the relevant departments lack manpower, and government has no alternative ways of fighting poverty among affected families," said Moyo.

Tatenda Sibanda*, 12, is among scores of men, women and children who go to Lake Chivero, some 25km southwest of Harare, every day to catch fish, which they sell on the side of the road as well as to shops and households.

Tatenda helps his father cast a net into the water and drag it out when they have made a catch. After two or three sizeable hauls, they come ashore and start sorting the fish and loading them into buckets, which will go to a fishing company based at the lake. Tatenda earns US$5 a day for his work, while his father earns $10.

"The job is a hard one, but my parents have told me that it is the only way in which I will be able to get money for school fees when we go back to school this year," said Tatenda, who started fishing at the lake at weekends and during school holidays when his father lost his job.

"I would have wanted my son to rest and play with the other kids, but since I am out of employment, he has to help," said his father. Tatenda's 14-year-old sister is working as a vegetable porter at a busy market for $2 a day. "If it were not for this fish business and the little we get from my daughter and my wife's vegetable vending, we wouldn't have been able to buy anything during Christmas," said Sibanda.

He was working at a textiles company when it closed down in October 2013 and he was laid off, along with nearly 200 other employees. Sibanda had been receiving less than a third of his monthly salary of $350 for eight months before his job came to an end, and when the company finally shut its doors he did not receive the back pay he was owed, or any termination benefits.

Innocent Makwiramiti, a Harare-based economist and former chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC), said retrenched employees often lose numerous benefits besides their salaries.

"In most cases, when they are retrenched, breadwinners would have [already] gone for long periods without receiving their salaries, [they] can no longer access medical aid and, in some cases, they forgo school fees allowances they would have been getting," he said.

"While companies have been struggling over the years, even under the Government of National Unity (formed in early 2009 and dissolved in August 2013), it seems an unusual number have been folding since last year's elections."

Makwiramiti said many other companies are struggling to pay employees their full salaries, while public service employees often receive such poor salaries that they rely on their children to supplement the household income, and even top managers who have fallen on hard times are doing the same.

Kurai Chipamaunga, 37, a single mother with two children, who is also responsible for her late sister's three children, worked as a senior accounts clerk for a bank in Harare until it closed in 2013.

"When the bank was placed under liquidation, most employees did not get anything ... all of a sudden, I have no source of income," she told IRIN. During the Christmas period banks faced a liquidity crisis and placed severe restrictions on cash withdrawals.

"I had no choice but to make two of my sister's children go to work," she said. They go door-to-door selling cell phone chargers and batteries, snacks and cutlery that Chipamaunga bought for resale with the little money she had when the bank closed. Her own children, aged seven and four, are too young to earn money.

Chipamaunga has started a small garment-making project, but fears she will struggle to raise enough money for the children's school fees and uniforms this year. "All the money I saved is trapped in the bank," she said.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

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InFocus

Zimbabwe's Ailing Economy Fuels Child Labour

Boys working (file photo).

The decline of the manufacturing sector in the past decade has forced families to send their children out to work to supplement household incomes, experts say. Read more »