COVID-19 contributing to child labour in Ntcheu

By Maston Kaiya, MANA

Ntcheu residents have expressed concern that since the closure of schools due to COVID-19 there has been an increase in child labour in the district.

One resident, Effod Geza a lot of child labour issues is observed during market days at Mphate, Tsangano turnoff and Kampempuza markets where children are sent to sell various small scale business items.

On a market day in most places children are
involved in selling goods

“When we ask the children, they say since schools are closed, their parents are sending them to do business so that they may supplement income for their homes,” Geza said.

Schools were temporarily closed as soon as government declared the state of national disaster in March 2020 in light of the COVID-19.

Geza also said COVID-19 has not only contributed to child labour but has contributed to retrenchment which has affected hundreds of workers in the district.

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Geza cited Ntcheu stadium as one of the affected projects, whereby 125 workers were retrenched due to the pandemic.

A business lady, Linda Doya of Bunyenga Village Senior Chief Makwangwala said the pandemic was indeed contributing to child labour.

She said parents or guardians who are in small scale business are left with no choice but to send their children to do business on their behalf.

“It is unfortunate that while parents acknowledge the seriousness of COVID-19, they are still sending their children to market places to ply into various economic activities,” Doya said.

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A standard three learner from Chiole Primary School, Mighty Liwemba, 10, who sells fried fish snacks at Mphate trading centre said since school was closed, his parents have been sending him to do the business on their behalf.

“There are three of us in our family, two of which are my sisters who have gone to Chimwayi Village [Traditional Authority Kwataine] to help our grandparents. 

“This has therefore, led my parents to send me to do the business here,” he said.

Another child labour victim, Nenani Chiyambeni, 15, from Naudzu Village, TA Kwataine — while acknowledging the seriousness of COVID-19 — said he has no choice but to sell Frozy drinks, Mandazi and Thobwa to support his mother and stepfather.

According to District Labour Office, 10 percent of Ntcheu populations of over 681,000 are engaged in child labour.

Meanwhile, a report compiled by Child Rights Network says government and development partners must scale up strengthening investment in several systems to allow Malawi to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak without compromising services which promote the protection of children.

Child Rights Network comprises Plan International Malawi, Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages Malawi and World Vision International.

The report highlights that the pandemic will affect children’s access to healthcare services, education, protection and other basic social and community services, negatively impacting on the gains achieved towards attaining the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. 

It says the pandemic will also cause untold economic distress and exacerbate poverty while exposing the children especially the girl child to abuse and violence.

“As child rights organizations, we are obliged to advocate for strategies and approaches to protect the most vulnerable children and ensure their rights are protected even during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the report.

It outlined some of the main threats to children that include in health, saying the Ministry of Health indicates that up to 50,000 Malawians could die if COVID-19 persists for a year and that 85% of the country’s population will become infected.

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It says 483,000 would be hospitalized out of which 85,000 would be in need of critical care and 50,000 would die.

In education, following the closure of all schools and learning institutions, the report says “in one fell swoop and at the stroke of a pen, thousands of children all over the country were denied their right to learn”. 

“Even before the COVID-19 crisis, many children in Malawi were out of school so the school closures only compounded the situation.”

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It also touches on limited protection amid increase of violence against children, saying COVID-19 crisis exacerbates inequalities and places women, girls, and other vulnerable populations at a greater risk of violence. 

“Incidences of violence against children and gender-based and domestic violence may likely increase with potential heightened parental anxieties and frustrations.”

On food security and nutrition, over 80% of the population in Malawi is engaged in agricultural smallholder farming and contribute 75% to the food consumed in the country. 

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But the recurring droughts, floods and negative impacts of climate change have adversely affected agricultural productivity because

the farmers are not able to prepare land on time, buy seeds, access essential inputs and markets thus negatively impacting their and the country’s food entitlement. 

“The families are already struggling because of climate change shocks and food shortage.”

Key responses to the health observations include meaningfully involve children in the COVID-19 response and decision-making processes and prioritising information and communication needs of children and adolescents when rolling out inclusive national and community communication campaigns. 

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Children and adolescents should be consulted to understand their concerns, fears and needs while developing child friendly communication tools; translate them into different local languages and disseminate using multiple channels.

In education, there is the need to develop remote/distance learning facilities for continued safe, quality, inclusive and accessible learning from home for children.

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Children’s rights obligations must remain in force in child protective systems even in emergencies and that Government and partners should support inputs, food subsidies, nutrition support and training of communities to produce food for community food banks whose food will be distributed to vulnerable families.

On social protection, Government must guarantee family income through strengthened social protection systems that include cash transfers and provide support to the ultra-poor and most vulnerable.

Because of refugees’ status and language barriers, Child Rights Network says there is a risk of refugee communities and children not being included in the national COVID-19 strategies, plans and  interventions.—Additional reporting by Duncan Mlanjira