Parents must not trample on children’s rights
The economic hardships being experienced by Zimbabweans have put many breadwinners out of formal employment, making it increasingly difficult for them to provide enough for their families. In order to mitigate this, many families, especially in low-income households, have resorted to using their children to assist in fending for the family.
This has led to an alarming increase in young children that are working on the streets selling various items but most commonly vegetables and airtime, at times when you reasonably expect them to be in school.
Some are even vending in inappropriate places such as beerhalls, bottle stores and nightclubs. One thus wonders if this is not economic exploitation of children who are rightfully supposed to be provided for by their parents/guardians while they attend school?
The International Convention on the Rights of the Child states in Article 32 that children should be “protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development”.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC/African Charter) also carries an almost similar clause in Article 15. Zimbabwe’s Children’s Act [Chapter 5:06] contains the same prohibition in Sections 10 and 10A and makes it a punishable offence to use a child in begging or to intentionally absent them from school and engage them in some income-generating work when the child is reasonably expected to be in school. All this speaks to children’s rights to be protected from economic exploitation.
Although rarely viewed as economic exploitation, the above-mentioned vending by children surely interferes with a child’s education in different ways such as constant absenteeism from school or even dropping out to vend for the family.
Some children work after school and as such do not have time for personal study and to do their homework as required. Others do work that is physically straining for their age and the subsequent exhaustion impacts negatively on their performance in school.
Immaturity and lack of experience in life may also lead to some kids thinking that they are better off working and making money than wasting time in school, leading to school drop-outs.
Other children are vending in or close to risky and unhealthy places such as rubbish dumps, beerhalls, bottle stores and nightclubs, sometimes at night, where they are exposed to alcohol, smoking, prostitution, sexual abuse and other immoral activities and high levels of pollution which are hazardous to their mental, physical, spiritual, moral or social development.
There is therefore no doubt that using children to vend, be it on airtime or anything else, is often detrimental to their normal development. Many parents, however, disagree that such vending is economic exploitation of children. They will argue that children have always helped out in African families, in rural areas through herding cattle, tilling the land and such like work for the benefit of the family. Some will further argue that such work also teaches children responsibility and hard work, a quality that they will need as adults.
In fact, the African Charter seems to support this in Article 31 where it talks of responsibilities of the child towards his/her family and society, which includes a duty to work for the cohesion of the family and to assist them in case of need.
Where then do we draw the line between a child’s permissible responsibilities towards the family and economic exploitation of a child that is prejudicial to his/her normal development?
Indeed, children do have responsibilities towards the family and rightfully so this may include work. This, however, should be interpreted and applied moderately and cautiously so that the work does not constitute economic exploitation at the expense of children’s other rights – such as the right to school, to play, and be free from abuse!
The duty to provide adequately for the family rests upon the parents and the state and never upon the children.
There is need for awareness among parents and children alike on acceptable children’s family responsibilities and hazardous economic exploitation.
Think about the consequences to the child’s future the next time you buy airtime from a child at 9pm at a nightclub or traffic light. It takes a village to raise a child.