TUJOROMAJO KASUTO

A NEW type of child labour is emerging in Windhoek with children are forced to do manual work such as domestic work, selling eggs, fruits and airtime vouchers among other things, for very little pay.

Most of these minors, who work as street vendors mainly in Windhoek, were taken from their families, mostly in Angola and given false promises.

They said they had come to Namibia in search of a better life.

The majority of them told Windhoek Observer, that they do not attend school and wake up early in the morning to start with the day’s work.

One of the minors, Mathias José, a 17-year-old boy from Angola said he came to Namibia in 2018, with the hope of attaining a better education.

His life however had not turned out as he envisioned, due to poor grades and ramshackle living conditions.

He was forced by family friends that he lived with in the Havana Informal settlement to drop out of school to earn an income and contribute to the household expenses.

He says he is waiting for a family relative to come from Angola and take him back home.

In the meantime, he roams the streets of Windhoek selling sausage for N$ 1 a slice and a brotchen with butter for N$2 to pass time before his departure.

Jose told this paper that he hands over all the money he makes to the household for his upkeep.

Felis Nghipangelwa is 15-year-old boy from Evale in Angola. “I work for this other guy. I make about N$150 per day but I don’t receive any remuneration from the earnings,” he said. Nghipangelwa works for about 13 hours a day.

Another underaged street vendor of Angolan decent who spoke to Windhoek Observer is 16-year-old Julius, who came to Windhoek at the beginning of March 2020.

An aunt he stayed with in Ondjiva took him out of school after his mother died as she was unable to sustain his needs.

“Currently I live in a backyard shack in Golgotha location, with my aunt’s husband.”

He said he had never stepped into a classroom since his relocation to Windhoek.

“I sell packets of chips, biscuits and airtime vouchers, making about N$150 a day that I hand over to my uncle at the end of the day. It is the source of income for the family,” he told Windhoek Observer.

There are many other such cases of underage children who roam the streets of Windhoek and other towns in Oshikoto and Ohangwena regions, among others.

Child labour is often the result of poverty-stricken households where parents are forced to send their children to seek employment when they can no longer sustain them.

Shikongo, who does not have a birth certificate, does not know his real age and never went to school, also narrated his ordeal. He believes he is 17 years old, as his late mother never told him his age.

Shikongo said he worked on a family farm in the north but he ran away due to strenuous working conditions.

Bernard, a 16-year-old from Ombili, works for his aunt for 11 hours a day in the blistering heat, but has never been paid.

“I work for my aunt and make N$100 per day but I don’t get paid. My aunt only buys me soap for bathing.”

Some of the minors remained tight lipped when Windhoek Observer asked them the identity of their employers such as 12-year-old Ndilishange who works for “a guy” and makes N$20 per day.

Thomas, another Namibian minor, not older than 15 years remained mum when asked about his age and said the only formal education he has had is lower primary. He said all he knows he learnt on the street.

Asked for comment, the Minister of Sport, Youth, and National Service, Agnes Tjongarero referred all queries the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare for comment instead.

“I do not know of children working in the streets and you should contact the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare as they are the ones who work with that,” said Tjongarero.

The Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare told Windhoek Observer: “The ministry is aware of Angolan children that are in the country and the ministry is guided by the Child Care and Protection Act, Act 3 of 2015.”

The Act makes provision for the decriminalisation of abandonment, the practice of safe social, cultural or religious practices.

The ministry said what complicated the children’s plight is that they do not have identity documents and this makes it difficult to determine their ages and the events that led them to come to Namibia.

“The ministry’s obligation is set to focus on the best interest of children, the child labour approach has a multi-sectoral approach because of the different components that may need answering e.g. How did they come into Namibia? Do they have the right documents to be in Namibia (ID, work permit etc), what age are they?” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said they had launched awareness campaigns for combating child labour/abuse, under the slogans, “Spot it to report it” developed in 2009 and “Blind and Sold” relaunched in 2019. However, the campaigns are mainly aimed for gender-based violence, human trafficking and youth respectively.

Communication, Advocacy and Partnerships Specialist for United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Namibia, Juditha Matjila said: “We are currently not supporting programmes on labour or trafficking but we previously supported the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare with the enactment of the Child Care and Protection Act, 3 of 2015.”

“Section 243 of the Act is in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) article 32, which has detailed provisions on child labour that emphasizes on the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous, interfere with the child’s education, or being harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), there are roughly 218 million children between the ages of 5 and 17, who are engaged in some type of employment worldwide. 152 million of that figure are casualties of child labour, half of that number work in high-risk environments such as mines, in farming with chemicals like pesticides, or with unsafe heavy apparatus.

Africa has the biggest number of child labourers as 72.1 million children are said to be doing child labour and 31.5 million in hazardous work environments.