April 17, 2003

MOZAMBIQUE: Ratification of ILO conventions amongst heavy discussions on the past

The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Thursday, April 17, ratified the convention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) banning the "worst forms of child labour".

These "worst forms" include slavery, forced labour, child prostitution, and the recruitment of people under the age of 18 into the armed forces. Nobody had any doubts that the convention should be ratified, but several deputies pointed out that child labour, including in its most degrading forms, would continue for as long as most of the population was sunk in absolute poverty.

The Assembly's Social Affairs Commission warned that "without eliminating absolute poverty society will always be living with child labour". The commission noted that in the Mozambican countryside families often sent young children into the fields, particularly at harvest time, for heavy agricultural work. This was simply a way of increasing the family's income.

The International Affairs Commission called on the government to tackle poverty through redistributive polices "which have a direct impact on social progress". It also wanted to see greater efforts from the government to establish free, compulsory education for all Mozambican children of school age. Opposition deputies claimed the government had no anti-poverty strategy. "There's a lack of political will to deal with absolute poverty", claimed Jose Palaco, of the Renamo-Electoral Union coalition. "There's no general strategy, it's just window-dressing". Palaco then demanded government censorship of the Internet. "What is the government doing about access to pornographic, paedophile and homosexual websites ?", he asked. Despite such outbursts, the debate was generally low key, and the convention was ratified unanimously.

A day earlier, two other routine ratification of conventions of the ILO turned into a session of mutual recriminations, as the majority Frelimo Party and the former rebel movement Renamo traded accusations of human rights abuses during the war of destabilisation. The two ILO conventions concerned forced labour and the minimum working age - which gave several deputies a handle to recall practices of forced labour during the 1980s.

Renamo deputy Luis Boavida noted that, despite the 1977 ratification of one ILO convention outlawing forced labour, six years later, in 1983, the Frelimo government launched "Operation Production", under which the unemployed were deported from the cities and forced to work in the countryside (mainly in the northernmost province of Niassa). Frelimo deputies were quick to point to Renamo's record of kidnapping villagers during the war, and forcing them to work in Renamo camps, or to undergo military training. The discussion soon lost any connection with the ILO conventions, as each parliamentary group accused the other of responsibility for massacres.

Here history was certainly on Frelimo's side - Sergio Vieira reminded Renamo that independent observers had accused Renamo of mass murder. These had included the US state department which in 1987 had even accused Renamo of carrying out a "holocaust". For Renamo, Rui de Sousa accused Frelimo of "bringing disgrace" to young Mozambicans. "It's Frelimo that marginalises our young people and turns them into slaves", he said. Sabado Malendza of Frelimo retorted "It was Renamo that kidnapped children, and raped them during the war".

Despite these heated words, the Assembly voted unanimously in favour of ratifying the two conventions, against forced labour, and establishing 15 as the minimum working age. (AIM, Maputo)


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