The Member of Parliament for South East South, Odirile Motlhale, holds that by including children aged 12 in the category of the unemployed, government is condoning child labour.
Motlhale was reacting to an answer given by the Assistant Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Dr. Gloria Somolekae, in parliament.
Somolekae had explained that it was found necessary to capture people from the age of 12 years in the labour force surveys “to cater for primary school dropouts who are absorbed in the labour market”.
“Children in government schools start school at 7 years of age and at 12 years they should be doing standard 5. How can you expect a Standard 5 pupil to work? Since a person at that age cannot have any skills, they’ll naturally be used as labourers, domestic workers and farm workers. At that age any such will have a negative impact on both their physical and mental health. The ILO definition of unemployment starts at 15 years and Botswana chooses to start at 12. The minister does not say why,” Motlhale said.
The MP had wanted the minister to state the current unemployment rate, the number of people it translates to, the percentage of the unemployed below the age of 35 and if the people enrolled in Ipelegeng project are employed.
The minister said citizens enrolled in Ipelegeng are regarded as being gainfully employed.
Somolekae said according to the Labour Force survey of 2005/6, the unemployed rate for Batswana aged 12 years and over stands at 17.5 percent. The Minister said the total unemployed population aged 12 years and over stood at 114,042 out of a total of 653,191 economically active citizens.
Motlhale proposes special schools to be opened for children who drop out of school to equip them with skills that can help them earn a leaving. He says such schools can teach them art, music, dance, carpentry and other skills.
The MP says the unemployment rate of 17.5 percent as given by the government is unrealistic.
“The fact that it is based on persons actively seeking employment negates its accuracy. How do these statistics cater for people who have given up looking for work? My estimation is that Government┬áoverall employs around 140, 000 people and the private sector including parastatals and the mines employ no more than 60,000 people. We have a population of close to 2 million people. If out of 2 million people only 200, 000 are gainfully employed, excluding the over 50 years and the under 16 years, you will certainly arrive at a figure around 30 percent not 17 percent,”┬á argues the South East South legislator.
Motlhale says the solution to the unemployment problem in Botswana needs┬áshort term and long term strategies.
“In the short term, a programme like Ipelegeng can be improved to do away with rotational employment and instead make it permanent. The Ipelegeng workers would then work alongside qualified government employees to do some of the jobs that are currently outsourced. This would achieve the purpose of skills transfer as well as cut costs for government,” the MP said. “In the long term, government has to come up with a comprehensive law on citizen economic empowerment and not a policy. The issue of beneficiation across all sectors, including diamonds, copper nickel and the beef sector, has to be fully exploited. There has to be a limit put on foreign exchange controls in order to help stimulate the local economy,” says Motlhale.