Scourge of child labour prevalent in SA

An estimated three million children in South Africa are involved in exploitative labour, a conference on the matter heard on Thursday.

“The government of South Africa estimated that 32,5% of children aged five to 14 years were working in 1999. Between 248 000 and three-million children are engaged in exploitative child labour in South Africa,” Dr Helene Aiello of Khulisa Management Services told the Reducing Exploitative Child Labour in South Africa conference in Boksburg.

Her findings are based on a case study done in Mpumalanga’s Nkomazi region.

“The most common types of work done by South African children are: fetching wood or water, followed by farm work—which can be classified as exploitative work if it prevents the children from attending school.”

It is a fact that in rural areas many children have to work to ensure their own and their families’ survival.

This, Aiello said, was made worse by the HIV/Aids pandemic, which resulted in Aids orphans and child-headed households.

Children between the ages of 15 and 17 may, according to South African legislation, be employed for “light work” if it does not stop them from attending school.

In the research done by Aiello in Mpumalanga, 2 600 children between the ages of 12 and 17 provided information about life in their villages, at home and in school.

Ninety-five percent of the children who filled out the questionnaire indicated that they did some kind of work at different times of the day. This ranged from domestic chores like cooking, cleaning and doing the washing, to fetching water, wood and looking after livestock.

Sixty percent of these children were paid for the work they did.

She said child labour was often hidden or denied due to a variety of reasons. These included fear of losing income or payment-in-kind benefits. Parents also often put pressure on their children to continue working.

Aiello recommended that free and quality basic education for the most disadvantaged children should be implemented with urgency.

The Department of Labour must also play a greater role to investigate complaints of child labour.

“The law states that if an employer is found to be employing a child below the age of 15 years in work that is detrimental to their growth, that person will be charged for a criminal act.”

Agriculture policies with regard to safe working conditions for children employed on farms must be reviewed for compliance with legislation.

Legislation governing schools should also be changed to make it compulsory to investigate why children did not attend school.—Sapa



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