Sunday, June 16, 2024

The devil is in your lunch takeaway

You start the day with a bowl of cereal. “Made in Botswana” sorghum soft porridge with a glass of milk should see you through the morning.

For lunch, you grab a take away of porridge and beef from your favourite caravan. In need of an afternoon sugar rush? Then a gulp of sweetened milk chocolate should do the trick.

So far, so ethical – or is it?
A 2000 study of child labour in Botswana suggests that your breakfast and lunch may be the product of child labour. The study revealed that about 30 000 economically active children in Botswana, between the ages of 10 to 14 years old, are involved in child labour. These children are mainly from poverty stricken backgrounds and are forced to work in order to support their families.

The working conditions are almost unbearable and the children work for minimal or no pay at all. The form of work done by the children consists of heavy manual labour on commercial and subsistence farms, working as herd boys, maids and child-minders in private homes. Due to the time consuming nature of the work, many are forced to drop out of school. Those who wish to continue with their studies barely keep up in the classroom and eventually end up dropping out of school altogether. Long working hours and physical strain take a heavy tool on their studies.

As herd boys and farm hands, they are at the bottom of Botswana beef and cereal industries’ lengthy supply chains and barely register on producing companies’ corporate social responsibility radar screens.

This is not helped by the fact that Batswana are far less ethical in their approach to buying products than consumers in developed countries. Botswana, however, is finally confronting its child labour problem.

“Our culture has always had good work practices which take account of the age of the child. What has been the challenge, and we must admit this, is ensuring that what is otherwise a good thing with good intentions does not yield harmful results,” said the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Charles Tibone, on opening the Reducing the Exploitative Child Labour in Southern Africa through Education (RECLISA) workshop at the Gaborone International Convention Centre last week. “This may happen, for instance, when our desire to develop a child into a mature, well rounded, self reliant adult of tomorrow, we hurry them through the childhood stage. We overburden them with physical work; we make them work for long hours, we keep them isolated at meraka and masimo; we take them out of school in order to take care of domestic chores; we just do not allow them to be children and do children’s things. We simply kill their spirits unknowingly.”

According to UNICEF, 48 million children are in employment in Sub Saharan Africa. One child in three (29 percent) are below the ages of 15 years. According to the ILO reports, the African continent is the only region in the world where exploitative child labour has increased over the last four years. Tibone was quick to admit that the situation is just as worrisome in Botswana. A number of studies, including work done by the Central Statistics Office, show a number of troubling signs.

Tibone revealed that “an estimated 17 percent of children aged between 6 and 12 years are not attending school” and “child trafficking for purposes of labour is noticeable.”

The situation, however, is expected to get worse before it gets better because of the country’s HIV/AIDS and orphan problem. According to the ILO, the main causes of child labour are poverty and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Child labour is more prevalent amongst poor families in remote areas. Due to poverty, children are forced into exploitive labour to help sustain their families. Many of the parents may be out of employment and encourage their children to opt for a cheap paying job rather than education.

In Botswana, an estimated 40 percent of people are living below the poverty margin, and most live in remote areas outside the cities and towns. The HIV/AIDS pandemic does not help the country’s child labour problem. Many children are left orphaned by the disease, and have to take responsibility of their younger siblings, and, in the process, are forced into child labour. In other cases, the children may have to take care of their parent when they are taken ill. The child may be forced to stay away from school to nurse the sick family member or find work to sustain the family.

“Increasingly, many households are led by children,” Tibone told the RECLISA workshop. “The HIV/AIDS pandemic has produced many orphans estimated at 15 percent of total child population; many orphans are economically active; commercial sex exploitation associated with survival, arranged marriages and prostitution are visible and the movement of orphans among relatives is notable for its potential risk.”

However, it is not all doom and gloom, and Botswana is recording some gains in the fight against child labour.

In his closing remarks Tibone commended the work being done by RECLISA and the BNYC. A total of 1100 children have been enrolled back into school, 750 in Gaborone and surrounding areas and 350 in Gantsi and its surroundings. The Ministry of Home Affairs has a programme called Towards the Elimination of Worst Forms of Child Labour (TECL), which aims to draw up a strong action plan for the eradication of the worst forms of child labour in Botswana.

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