By David Stenerud, Malawi
The Danish daily Politiken last year published a series of articles about child labour om Malawian tobacco farms. The year before, LO's research unit, Fafo, launched the report "Smoking Business" featuring the same problem.
It is the so-called tennant system that causes child labour in Malawi: Tennants are granted the responibility for a portion of land. Every August, they get paid according to market price for the crop they produce. During the harvest season they are forced to have their children working with them in order to make ends meet.
In the Mchiji region, mid-land Malawi, NorWatch met some tennant families on a small tobacco farm (It is namely mainly on the smaller farms child labour exist, ref. Fafo). The head of the small community, John Smith, explained that the children, from the moment on where their fathers find they are ready, enters the family work force during harvest season (cutting, harvesting, drying), from December/January 'til March/April. Throughout this four months period, the kids are on the fields with their parents form end of school day, until the sun goes down.
According to Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU), the independant, LO funded labour union in the countruy, some children are even pulled out of school during the harvest season.
Not the worst form
For all that, we are in fact not looking at a form of child labour that would be illegal according to the ILO convention 182 about the worst forms of child labour.
The practice in Malawi does, however, violate the 138 convention on minimum age, set at 14 years. Should the work the children perform not be on the expence of their education, the convention has an opening for children as young as 12 to have limited work.
Wants to ban child labour
- Our position is that child labour should be banned, said section leader Øystein Gudim in LO's international unit to NorWatch.
The LO supported MCTU drives a high profile campaign against child labour in Malawi.
What, then, about the grown workers? who earn a petty half dollar a day in health damaging environments. Is there not a danger that these people end up in the shadowland, as the spot light is always on the child labourers?
- Not really, expressed section head Gudim. - Less child labour means more work for the adults.
- But if you see to it that a proper minimum salary law is set in place in Malawi, wouldn't parents be spared from putting their children to work?
- You are right about that, but there is no contradiction here; you can play the piano with ten fingers!
- Easy to sell
- If I tell you, that my impression, after having been in Malawi, is that the union focuses disproportionately much on child labour?
- I see your point. We are, of course, also aware of the problems faced by the Malawian worker. And there is a danger child labour captures to much focus, Gudim admitted.
- Because, sometimes it is a problem that the agenda is defined by donor organisations, and then child labour is something it is easy to draw attention to.
- Is there self-criticism in that?
- Yes and no. We too are not perfect, but I think LO is reasonably good at listening to our partners' needs. There are other organisations that enters carrying with them a finnished devised solution to the problems, Gudim concluded.
LO is the main sponsor of MCTU. Last year the Norwegian organisation contributed 220.000 US dollars.
Norwatch Newsletter 7-8/02