Global March

Tackling child labour in tobacco farming in Malawi

Former Global March intern, George Mwika Kayange, is calling on the government of Malawi to table the long-awaited Tobacco Tenancy Bill during the forthcoming sitting of the country’s parliament. Labour Minister Yunus Mussa hinted at such a development in an interview in national newspapers earlier this month and the Child Rights Information and Documentation Centre (CRIDOC), of which Mr Kayange is the director, believes the fact that the Bill will protect an estimated 200,000 Malawians working as tenants in tobacco estates should be enough motivation for parliament to enact it.

According to CRIDOC, the enactment of the Bill would also further demonstrate the country’s commitment to tackling child labour. Malawi currently benefits from a Time-Bound Programme (TBP) from the International Programme of the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the tobacco industry’s multi-stakeholder initiative, the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco-growing Foundation (ECLT), has also been running programmes in the country for the past few years and has recently launched a new call for proposals.

Initiatives under these and the government’s various programmes include school-feeding programmes, cash transfer programmes that have supported many vulnerable families, community sensitisation programmes and interventions to withdraw child labourers from tea and tobacco estates and support their rehabilitation and reintegration. However, these interventions have been unable to adequately address the root causes of child labour due to an incomplete enabling legislative environment. Although the enactment in 2010 of the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act made significant contributions to amalgamating child care and protection issues into one law, CRIDOC points out that there is still an urgent need to enact legislation that will specifically target child labour in tobacco estates. The tobacco industry is the largest employer of children in commercial agriculture in Malawi.

The proposed Tobacco Tenancy Bill will, among other things, set a new minimum age of employment at 18 and institute punitive measures for estate owners using child workers. It also seeks to provide for the regulation of tenancy labour by clarifying the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants with a view to tackling exploitative situations and will address a range of labour dispute in this sector, for example, through the establishment of written contracts between tenants and landlords covering issues such as transport, food provision, accommodation and fair loans schemes.

However, although it has the potential to further efforts to tackle child labour, CRIDOC has emphasised the key issue of enforcement to ensure that the Bill can achieve its important objectives. “We urge the legislators to … set aside more time and energy deliberating … enforcement mechanisms,” said Mr Kayange, “including building the capacity of those responsible for implementing the law on the ground.”

Speaking on the new Bill, Global March Chairperson praised the efforts of CRIDOC in highlighting the importance of ensuring decent working conditions for tenant farmers in tackling child labour in the tobacco-growing industry. “It is so encouraging and inspiring to see the work of a young child rights’ activists such as George Kayange and their determination to see childhoods restored. Malawi is one of the most densely populated and poorest countries in the world and agriculture is crucial for the economy and people’s very survival, but needs better regulation.”

He continued: “This sector remains the largest employer of children worldwide and yet still lags behind other sectors in terms of investment to tackle this issue. The international community has to back up the commitments made in Roadmap 2016 and efforts need to be accelerated to tackle agricultural child labour. Global March is putting the spotlight on this critical area through an international conference being held in Morocco in October this year. Developments, like the Tobacco Tenancy Bill in Malawi, are important milestones, but as our friend George points out, to have any impact legislation needs to be implemented and enforced. We fully support CRIDOC’s work in Malawi and we call on the international community to make good on the commitments of Roadmap 2016.”

To visit the web site of CRIDOC, click here

To visit the web site of ECLT, click here

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