Rainy Season is here once again and farmers are busy planting different crops. This is the time a lot of children suffer a lot because they are forced to work in farms, shunning school lessons. For a couple of the previous years, Tobacco Farming in the country has been blamed because it has been established that instead of going to school, school children are employed in the farms. When I say Children, I refer to every Human Being who is below the age of 16 (according to the constitution of Malawi). This act of employing school children into Tobacco Farming poses a gloomy life of the children in future. The work load in the Tobacco Farming does not match the ability of children. This is a form of child abuse because the work involved might be or is dangerous to their well-being.
Some parents threaten their children to work at a farm or risk sleeping on empty stomach for agreed period of time. When other children, in their shinny school uniforms race up and down going to school, these children are seen in Tobacco Farms working. At the end of the season, they are given peanuts. What kind of Malawi are we building if we keep children in farms? But one might ask, isn’t the increased number of children employed in Tobacco Farms a way of dealing with poverty from their respected families? Yes, some ill minded people might argue so. But on a legal basis, I would give a big NO. Employing Children in different sectors is against Section 23(5) of the Constitution of Malawi which says, and I quote “Children are entitled to be protected from economic exploitation or any treatment, work or punishment that is, or likely to- (a) – Be hazardous; (b) – Interfere with their education; (c) – Be harmful to their health or physical, mental or spiritual or social development”.
Lilongwe is one of the districts which witness such violation of children’s rights. Chioko village, under the Traditional Authority Chimutu, is one of the areas in Malawi which dominate in tobacco activities that engage the most children. However, children and youths in the area, particularly, have a different story to tell, curtsey of Center for Youth Empowerment and Civic Education (CYECE) which is implementing a child labour project through an action program called Achieving Reduction of Child Labour In Support of Education (ARISE). The focus is to eliminate child labour in the tobacco sector. The action program aims at preventing and eliminating child labour in the area by addressing the social and economic factors that drive small holder tobacco farmers to engage children in hazardous work. Child beneficiaries have been identified and are being provided with vocational skills training. Artisans and field staff have been recruited based on merit in order to train the children.
T/A Chimutu area was chosen as one of the target area because of its dominance in tobacco activities hence engagement of children in tobacco sector. CYECE through the project of ARISE has established 2 Multi-Purpose Learning Centers (MPLCs) where it has supplied materials for Carpentry, Tailoring and Contemporary Basic Education (CBE) namely Chioko and Msambo where children assemble for vocational skills training and other services. This prompted Nthanda Times to visit one of the centers at Chioko Trading Center in the area to have a clear glimpse of the undertaking. While at the center, it was established that youths under the age of 18 are also considered in the vocational skills training which include Tailoring and Carpentry. Kingsley Kachipande, 18, and Janet Harold, 16, are some of the students who are admitted in the carpentry section. Both Kingsley and Janet say they feel proud to have a chance of learning carpentry skills free of charge.
“Feels great to be part of Chioko CYECE ARISE carpentry school, we have so far learnt different skills pertaining to carpentry 2 years we have been here”, said Kingsley.
On the other hand, Janet encouraged fellow youths, girls in particular that they should not miss such a golden opportunity:
“I just encourage my fellow youths that they should not get ashamed of this chance but should come and join the school, there are a lot of good things here”.
On the part of tailoring section, a 16 year old Malita Madengele said she was happy to be admitted into a tailoring section at the school. She said she was afraid of her future after dropping out of school 3 years ago but she is all smiles now that her admission she has been recruited into the training. Malita does not fear that tailoring is mainly perceived as males’ endeavor, and this has made her to compete profusely with the boys in her class. Hard work and dedication have been the key factors to her success in the 2 years she has been at the school.
“I can now sew a dress, school uniforms, shorts if given the cloth, and even torn clothes”, said the young Malita who sees a bright future in the tailoring industry rather than as a tenant at a Tobacco Farm.
On the other hand, a 15 year old Bashir Benara echoes the words of his teacher Mr. Mphatso Sayizi to encourage youths who take tailoring as a waste of time to come and enroll at the school:
“There are so many things which are learnt in the tailoring class not as what people think”’ said Benara quashing perceptions societies have over the profession of tailoring.
Mphatso Sayizi who teaches about 20 students in his class however urged parents who have a bad attitude towards admitting their children at the school to change their mindset:
“Tailoring is not a waste of time or not for lusty men as people say. We don’t teach them bad things as other parents think. On top of the skills, we also teach them good manners and the parents will never regret to have their children enrolled here instead of keeping their kids in Tobacco Fields”.
Sayizi went on to praise CYECE ARISE for the free training.
The students further said that they are satisfied with the skills they are getting and hailed CYECE ARISE for implementing the free of charge Vocation training skills at Chioko Trading Centre. Of the 2 years the training has been going on at the school, tailoring students have sewed school uniforms for both boys and girls, sweaters, shorts just to mention some
. The carpentry students have also made couple of house materials which include stools, tables, chairs, doors, frames just to mention some. But what do they do with the products of carpentry and tailoring? Janet Harold said that they are sold “We sell them and use the money to buy some materials such as timber, Zitenje and other materials to help us in the training process”
After a period of three years, successful candidates graduate and are given start up resources to start their own carpentry business. Apart from the carpentry, the CYECE ARISE project also offers Contemporary Basic Education (CBE) to school dropouts and every willing mortal with free of charge.
CBE teacher Mr. Joseph Moloko was quick to say that apart from vocational skills training, the students are also taught different things pertaining to rights of Children:
“We also teach them different things which among them are reading and writing, alphabet, Mathematics, Human Rights, English, Chichewa, difference between Child Labour from Child work”, briefed Mr. Moloko.
In his own words, Director of the Chioko CYECE ARISE Training School Moses Jimmy thanked the organization for implementing this project because it has helped in reducing immoral conduct and cases of child labour in the area:
“You see, this is a rural area where mostly youths do not have proper things to do after school and many of them are seen in Tobacco fields. Instead of engaging into immoral conducts or going to Maganyu (piece works) to Tobacco Fields, they come to this school to attain skills of their choice with free of charge”, Moses Jimmy told Nthanda Times.
However, Mr. Moses was quick to say that there are still some parents who are reluctant to send their children to the school but insisted that together with about Five teachers found at the school are working tooth and nail to make sure that issues of child labour in the area should be reduced or completely be brought to an end. Asked on the number of beneficiaries, Mr. Moses said that there are about 120 beneficiaries in the age range of 14 to 18.
The program has been developed by Japan Tobacco International (JTI) in partnership with Winrock International and International Labour Organization (ILO) and is being implemented using the Integrated Area based Approach (IABA) concept which calls for identification of community structures that can help in support to the project activities. Apart from Chioko Trading Center, CYECE ARISE extends its projects at Msambo Trading Center in T/A Chimutu and in Mitundu, T/A Maliri, in Lilongwe.