InterPress News Service
28 March 1995

As Adults Lose Jobs, Children Bring in Wages

By Joe Chilaizya

LUSAKA (IPS) - The hidden cost of Zambia's austere four-year-old structural adjustment programme (SAP) is the rising number of child workers.

While more than 72,000 adults have lost their jobs over the period of donor-supported reforms, children are becoming an increasingly important component of the labour force, according to a Central Statistics Office (CSO) survey.

The report, finalised last year, indicates that the total work force of children aged 12 and above is 2.7 million, and at an annual growth rate of 2.1 percent, may increase to 3 million this year.

Fifty-two percent of Zambia's total population of 6.2 million citizens aged seven and above are economically active.

''Our survey on social dimensions of SAP indicate that of the male population aged seven and above, 57 percent are engaged in an economic activity and 47 percent are in active employment," the CSO says.

It attributes the problem of ballooning child labour to rising job losses among parents as companies buckle in Zambia's harsh economic climate and a cost-saving government cuts back on its public sector wage bill.

The consequence is that parents are increasingly unable to afford the school fees to educate their children. The next step is to put them on the streets to supplement family incomes.

''Unmindful of the need to send their children to school, some parents tend to send them on money raising errands like street vending or domestic odd jobs instead," CSO Director David Diangamo, told IPS.

Eleven-year-old Masuzyo is one such case.

Every morning she treks into the city centre as her more fortunate friends head towards school. On her head is a winnowing basket full of boiled groundnuts and in her right hand she clutches a basket of fritters.

She will sit along Lusaka's vendor-crammed filthy shopping centre corridors until eight o'clock at night selling as much as she can.

''I dropped out of grade four last year and I have been doing this for almost a year now to help raise money for food at home," she said wistfully.

In another part of town, Josephine aged 13 spends her days sweeping a three-bedroomed house, babysitting and washing the laundry for about four dollars a month. This has been her life for the past three years.

She rarely goes out of the walled yard and works seven days a week while her wages are kept for her until she decides to end her stay in her mistress's house.

''These children are usually separated from their parents for long periods, an isolation which amounts to a prison sentence and cruelty," Acting Labour Commissioner Noah Siasumuna said during a recent workshop on human rights of the child.

''The others are sexually abused by men, who lure them into their offices in backstreet alleys and offer to buy all their nuts and other wares in exchange for sex.

''It is usually an easy way out for most girls but some have ended up pregnant or infected with a venereal disease," Masuzyo noted.

Since the collapse of copper prices over a decade ago, Zambia's economy has lurched from crisis to crisis. Former President Kenneth Kaunda introduced several World Bank-urged reform programmes, but as his popularity declined, balked at the austerity measures demanded by the donors.

The government of President Fredrick Chiluba won Zambia's first multi-party elections in 23 years by a landslide. However, his free-market-driven government inherited an economy in the casualty ward. Although liberalisation policies are in full swing, they are yet to translate into appreciable improvements in standards of living.

And it is the increasing ranks of children, denied an education and childhood, who are paying the price.

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