Indicators for Children’s Rights







3. Social and economic deprivation

According to the Protocol document this chapter should concentrate on
the two related areas of social security and economic exploitation. However,
the data on social security provision for children are scant and not children
centred and there has been no study linking the effects of recession and
structural adjustment directly to the economic situation of children. In
view of this, the chapter concentrates on one manifestation of social and
economic deprivation – the economic exploitation of children – which itself
shows some interesting characteristics in terms of the way the data are
constructed. This section of the report thus examines the data available
on the subject of child exploitation, which basically includes child labourers
and other similar categories such as `street children’.

The data presented and commented on in this chapter were correspond to
Articles on social and economic deprivation found in the Convention on the
Rights of the Child, which are: 4, 26, 32 to 34. These Articles are basically
protection rights, and advocate for protection to be accorded to disadvantaged
children. Similar Articles can be found in the African Charter on the Rights
and Welfare of the Child: 5, 11, 15, 17, 19, 21, and 27.

Contradictions in Zimbabwean legislation

The Legal Age of Majority Act (No.15 of 1982) lays down in section 3
(1),(2) and (3) that:

  • (1) On and after the fixed date a person shall attain the legal age
    of majority on attaining the age of eighteen years of age.

    (2) A person who immediately before the fixed date has not attained
    the legal age of majority shall on that date attain the legal age of majority
    if he or she has already attained eighteen years of age.

    (3) The provision of subsections (1) and (2) shall apply to the purposes
    of any law, including customary law….

The Act does not define what is meant by the legal age of majority. It
seems the concept means having full legal capacity and full legal independence.
The legal age of majority seems to involve not only the capacity to sue
in one’s own name and right and to contract and marry without the consent
of the parent(s), but also the capacity to own and administer property.
There is no reason why the Act should not apply after marriage (bearing
in mind that the age of consent in Zimbabwe is 16 years and above, although
it is being amended to 18 years) in circumstances where, but for the Legal
Age of Majority Act, the wife would have fallen under her husband’s guardianship
and continue to be regarded as a minor, without rights to property.

With respect to child labour the Labour Relations Act has nothing to
offer by way of protecting children aged over 16 yet, as we have seen, children
below the age of 18 cannot enter into contracts. The Labour Relations Act
states that any child who has worked is entitled to remuneration and it
tends to enforce the contract entered into by the child and the employer
irrespective of whether the contract is written or verbal agreement. Amendments
to the Labour Relations Act (1985) known as The Labour Relations (Employment
of Children and Young Persons) Regulations gazetted by the Minister of Public
Service, Labour, and Social Welfare on Friday March, 1997, ban:

  • Employment of children under 12 year; while children aged 12 to 17 can
    only be hired for a maximum of 6 hours a day for light work during the
    school holidays;

    Teenagers under 18 years from any work involving hazardous substances,
    underground mining, using electrically-powered hand-tools, or any work
    that exposes a child to extremes of heat, noise, cold or whole body vibration;

    Overtime and night shift for workers aged below 18 years;

    Employment of anyone under 18 during the school term without the express
    approval of the Labour Minister.

The light work permitted to children aged 12 to 18 years is defined as
work that is not likely to prejudice the education, health, safety, rest
or social, physical and mental development of the child.

Article 1 of The ILO Convention No. 138 on Minimum Age for Admission
to Employment (1973) encourages states to both develop policies for abolishing
child labour and child exploitation and progressively raise the minimum
ages at which children can legally begin to work. In Article 2, Convention
138 goes beyond the general requirements by setting benchmarks for states
to adhere to which are:

  • The age should not be less that the age when compulsory schooling ends
    and in any event should not be less than 15 years;

    States (whose economies are not sufficiently developed) are allowed
    to set the age at 14. But this should only be transitional because where
    the minimum age is less than 15 state should seek to raise it as matter
    of urgency, and the aim is that all states are to raise minimum age to
    16 in all economic areas.

An editorial comment to the local daily The Herald of March 18, 1997

  • Child labour has never been a serious problem in this country. Furthermore,
    the problem is not just the loopholes in the law but also the enforcement
    of the laws. Child labour has always been controlled by the Labour Relations
    Act and the Children’s Protection and Adoption Act.

One of the most important current challenges is to monitor how effectively
the law deals with child labour and this includes even dealing with the
various contradictions that exist in the national laws.

Literature on the economic exploitation of children in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe the subject of economic exploitation of children is very
recent and there is therefore a serious dearth of literature. The main body
of literature consists of pioneer texts by Rene Loewenson (1989 & 1992),
Loyd Sachikonye (1989) and Pamela Reynolds (1985) focusing on child labour,
some texts on particular sectors, such as domestic workers, but more frequently
on street children, an issue that has dominated the 1990s, in work by the
Zimbabwe Council for the Welfare of Children, (1989), Backson Muchini &
Sally Nyandiya-Bundy (1991), Michael Bourdillon (1991, 1993, 1994, 1995)
and Linda Dube (1996, 1997). The research by Loewenson and Sachikonye was
commissioned by the Government of Zimbabwe, the International Labour Office
(ILO) and UNICEF. The study by Muchini and Nyandiya-Bundy was carried out
for UNICEF, while the Zimbabwe Council for the Welfare of Children is an
institution specialising in policy and advocacy. The remainder are independent,
academic studies, although they have contributed to policy debates and advocacy.

All these studies are surveys based on small samples of limited geographic
coverage. The most commonly-used tool for collecting information within
a survey is the questionnaire, which is at best a poor method when used
alone, at worst a bad tool to use with children, even though this is what
is usually expected by those who commission research and often all that
is possible within the time frame allowed for research. The exception is
the academic study, Dance Civet Cat, by Pamela Reynolds, which is
based on a variety of locally-based, detailed research methods that are
described and evaluated in the text. In all this research the only nationwide
survey was the one conducted by Muchini and Nyandiya Bundy (1991). As Bourdillon
has commented with particular reference to the survey by Muchini and Nyandiya-Bundy,
there are problems with a survey of this magnitude:

  • One does not get reliable information from … children by going in
    and asking questions on a questionnaire form. Nevertheless, in the absence
    of other data the survey has some use (Bourdillon, 1994).

Limitations of the survey questionnaire method as a research tool include:

  • Samples tend to be very small and may be skewed or unrepresentative.
    Despite this, the data obtained are often generalised to large populations
    or to describe the situation in the whole country;

    This type of research is divorced from local, cultural contexts, which
    may be different from the overall national picture. Yet the results are
    frequently presented as national statistics.

Other researchers rely on single-method studies, often anecdotes that
are passed off as case studies. Information gathered is seldom cross-checked
by using other methods, or by comparison with other similar studies and
secondary data nor building upon that data . The end result is that most
studies tend to be similar and do not show any meaningful progress in the
development of the discourse.

Assumptions about and expectations of children


In data, debates and discussions on child-labour there is a general assumption
that children are exploited only by their employers. Yet it is becoming
evident that some children are exploited by their parents even though it
is usually assumed that parents always have the best interest of their children
at heart and thus the idea that they might exploit them is culturally unacceptable.

The data on child-exploitation tend to reflect protective attitudes towards
children and to emphasise the harmful effects of child labour. This implies
that there is nothing useful about children’s work. We would suggest that
it is necessary to find out what the children think about their work, about
whether we can change child labour into child work. Indeed some recent studies
have shown the value of children’s contribution to their own lives and the
lives of their family members. There are less pronounced inferences on the
discourse about the meanings and changes in the conceptualisation of childhood
as they relate to child work. Society expects at all times to find children
at home, in school or in protected play grounds. They are not supposed to
work or labour. Furthermore, there is an assumption in Zimbabwe among government
officials that there is no child without a home and loving parents, or who
cannot be cared for in times of difficulty by the extended family (see Bourdillon,

The data on child exploitation emanating from government sources are
often collected under the theme of what UNICEF has been calling until recently
`Children in Especially Difficult Circumstances’, even more commonly known
by the acronym CEDC. The list of CEDC in Zimbabwe includes child labourers
(often with reference to children working in farms, the urban informal sector
and in mines), children working in domestic environments, and to `street
children’. The term child labour, is used, but not defined within the Zimbabwean
context. The Report of the Government of Zimbabwe (1996) to the UN Committee
on the Rights of the Child used the words `child exploitation’ but fell
short of defining what the term meant. Definition of these phenomena would
leads to the establishment of parameters of what is to be covered within
the data that are collected.

Zimbabwean perceptions of child economic exploitation

When we were mapping information about economic exploitation we found
an overall concern about where it takes place. It is implicit that some
of the groups of children about whom concern is expressed are the focus
of interest because of their high visibility within cities. Urban areas
are of course centers of attraction, and ideas and debates within a nation
tend to come through the city before they permeate into the remote rural
and farming areas. Street children are generally perceived at best as a
nuisance at worst as delinquents. They are looked upon as children who pollute
the streets, who flagrantly violate the law and therefore need to be locked
away. The perception by public officials and authorities is that street
children paint a bad image of our cities (see Dube, forthcoming) When it
comes to child-labourers, public officials and authorities are concerned,
but nothing concrete is being done. Child labourers are often far out of
sight (and out of mind) in domestic employment and in the remote commercial
farms (see Dube, 1997).

In Chapter 1 we gave a description of the place of children in the traditional
African contexts. These cultural attitudes have an impact on the ways in
which child-labour and child exploitation are conceived and perceived. When
looking at street children for example, government officials are very fond
of pointing out that, according to African culture and custom, no children
would be roaming the streets because they do not have parents. They argue
that the extended family is always present to care for orphans (see Bourdillon,
1991:2-3). Proponents of such African culture arguments go further to say
that no child would run away from home because of overwork or parental abuse.
Such ideas are unthinkable. Even being whipped is considered good for the
socialisation of children, as it is believed that children will thus learn
to appreciate authority. When we interviewed Members of Parliament in the
course of research for this Report some recited tales of how they worked
hard in their own childhood, something which they considered socialises
children into acquiring an appropriate work ethic and appreciating the value
of the `dignity of labour’. We would suggest that this is a defensive approach
to the issue of child labour and child exploitation. Such conceptualisation
assumes that, in the African understanding of childhood, work by children
is the norm and has never been seen as exploitative. There is an over-emphasis
on the contribution of the child to the household economy, which fails to
realise and accept that conditions of life, socio-economic and political
structures have changed.

Some public officials have claimed that debate about child labour and
child exploitation in Zimbabwe is an imported debate, from ideas imported
from the Wes. Such sentiments buttress the view that concepts of child labour
and child exploitation are seemingly alien to the African context. However,
there is a problem with the Western reaction to child labour as it
seems not to acknowledge the contribution of child to the household economy.
Quite often child labour is looked upon as if there were no positive benefits
to the child. Such a view definitely has a problem in the African setting
since it is derived from the idealised Western middle class family, which
is implicit in international documents such as the Convention on the Rights
of the Child.

The problem is not that child labour and child exploitation do not exist,
but how we can define what we want to deal with in a way that is acceptable
to all those who are concerned and come from different cultural backgrounds.

Data on economic exploitation

As we have noted above, the subjects of child labour and the economic
exploitation of children are still very recent and very little literature
exists. Apart from the few works and publications on the subject, the data
are neither readily available nor accessible. As we noted in the list above
the data that are currently available mainly come from scholarly works or
studies carried out for an external donor agency, a government department,
or a research institute. Reliable statistical information is non-existent
in some sectors of child exploitation. Frequently- quoted `statistics’ are
mostly guesstimates, as in the case of street children who for most of the
1990s have been stated to be 12,000 nation-wide and `increasing’ without
any change in this symbolic figure.

One of the major problems highlighted in studying child-exploitation
is that it is difficult to gain access to children in their situations of
work, especially with reference to children in farms and domestic environments.
The children in these two sectors are working within private environments
and the owners of the properties often restrict the entry of people they
are suspicious of, such as researchers. Hence the data that are available
are limited to small case studies rather than providing quantitative aspects
of the phenomenon.

Although some scholars have tried to pay attention to socio-cultural
context prevailing in the areas from which they have gathered their data,
otherwise they are silent on these issues. The data usually concern themselves
with trying to quantify the problem, which unfortunately is done through
using small samples confined to a particular area and impossible to generalise
to the whole country.

Nevertheless, we found that nationwide data are available from the 1992
Census Data in the Central Statistical Office. It simply had to be re-calculated
to show the aspects of child work in which we were interested for this Report.
It is surprising therefore that studies of child labour always assume that
a special survey has to take place, when data are already available. Data
re-calculated from the 1992 Census gives a universal picture of the extent
of children’s economic activities in Zimbabwe, even though it tends to concentrate
on the formal sector of employment. Nevertheless, from the children’s rights
monitoring perspective, these recalculations are particularly useful because
they can be disaggregated by gender, by province and by economic sector.

It is also possible to recalculate the statistics in the Census to provide
age-groupings that correspond to one basic requirement for monitoring both
the Convention and the Charter. In Census data as a whole, the population
figures are normally provided in five year age intervals: 0-5 years, 6-10
years, 11-15 years, 16 to 20 and so on. As both the Convention and the Charter
define children as the population under 18 years of age monitoring system
require data on this group. Yet most figures for ‘children’ relate to persons
under 15 years of age. Data provided about this group lack information about
persons aged 16 to 18 years. With respect to data on child employment this
is exacerbated by the main international instrument on child labour, Convention
138 of International Labour Office (ILO), which sets the minimum age for
employment at 15 years. Thus, for the 1992 Census, measurement of child
employment referred only to children under 15 years old. However, we were
able to calculate the figures for children aged 18 years and below. These,
particularly when combined with the disaggregations mentioned above, provided
some interesting data.

The recalculation of the 1992 Census data to show the employment of persons
under 18 years of age, when disaggregated by province shows, for example,
that child labour was highest in Midlands Province ( 24%) and Harare, and
lowest in Bulawayo, at less than 2 %. Other provinces account for around
10% each, with the exception of Matabeleland South at around 5%. Gender
comparisons show that, in the largely rural provinces of the country, girl
children are almost twice as likely as boys to be engaged in work. This
is most apparent in Masvingo Province. The situation in urban areas, especially
Harare and Bulawayo, is very different, with boys and girls participating
in the labour force to almost the same extent. The exception to this pattern
is once again Matabeleland South, where working boys significantly outnumber
working girls.

In order to get more insight into the extent of child labour we examined
these recalculations of the 1992 Census data according to the dominant economic
sectors in Zimbabwe. We found that the data indicated that rural (communal
and resettlement) areas of smaller-scale farming, accounted for the majority
of children’s employment in the country, 91.03 %. Within this sector, girl
children slightly exceeded the boys ( 58.25% and 41.75% respectively). Child
work in the commercial farms contributed 3.78% of the total child labour
force, while urban employment accounted for 3.60 % . It is quite common
in Zimbabwe to find children working on commercial farms, picking cotton
and tea for example, before going to school, if they go to school at all.

The potential of existing official statistics for monitoring some forms
of child employment is considerable, yet these figures have not thus far
been exploited. It is also worth noting that the potential for correlating
data on child employment and education could be usefully explored. Date
exist on school drop out, but are not related in the statistical record
to the recruitment of children into exploitative work situations, even though
this connection is often made anecdotally. The exception is certain data
relating to commercial farms that do look at the rates of enrolment in farm
schools in comparison with other sectors, with respect to the rate of school
drop out. In other situations, as in the analysis of data on street children,
one occasionally finds information about the impact of housing conditions
on children’s tendency to leave home, yet these data are not systematically

Links with other regroupings

The analysis of the overall spread of data collected for this Report
led the Country Case Study Team to make broad assessments of the links that
could usefully be made between data sets in order to produce an integrated
monitoring system. The area in which we found most potential for this was
the focus on child employment, which can be clearly related to information
on education as well as children-parent relations. The former link is not
surprising. Literature on child labour points to a close relationship between
the two. Education is said to ‘produce’ child labour through:

  • Lack of relevance and poor quality of education;
  • Lack of resources: poor infrastructure results in the recruitment of
    the least qualified teachers to remote schools with poor facilities;
  • Lack of commitment by governments to providing adequate basic education.

In the data we examined from Zimbabwe, there was indeed a correlation
between child work/labour and the provision of education. Low school enrolments
seem to result in high incidents of child exploitation or child labourers.
The following patterns emerged when comparing data on education and the
incidence of child labour:

  • School enrolments are poorest in communal areas, poor in commercial
    farms and poor/fair in urban areas. Child labour/exploitation shows the
    same pattern in reverse;
  • In terms of gender, girl children are disadvantaged educationally in
    remote rural areas and on commercial farms.

We also found, as pointed out in the previous chapter that it is important
to consider a number of factors in children-parent relationships with respect
to child work/labour. Quality of housing is one element to be considered,
but cultural influences on the nature of authority relationships within
families and households, as outlined in Chapter 1, are also vital. Parents
use their authority to make all sorts of decisions that affect their children
and to issue commands which children are expected to obey. Sometimes parents
can use their customary role expected of them to re-emphasise their authority
in the family. If the children dare cross the parents’ paths they have no
one to turn to, especially within the urban setting. As a result when this
occurs children might seek refuge on the streets. Reconstituted families
and step-parenthood are also important influences. Some step parents (male
and female) ill-treat the child or children of their partners, possibly
because of insecurity. The abused children might take to the streets, even
living there at night. Girls living under a male step parent are often vulnerable
to sexual abuse (Dube, forthcoming 1997).


From the scant data available it is very clear that the subject of economic
exploitation of children still remains to be comprehensively researched.
Even what is meant by the term economic exploitation of children in Zimbabwe
has not been established. Yet data exist in current nationwide data sets
that might be usefully calculated on a general basis in order to monitor
child employment regularly according to differences between different sectors
and provinces, as well as by gender. In addition, potential correlations
between data sets from different ministries could be explored.

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