January 14, 2004

Attempts to curb child exploitation

With an estimated 30 % of Angolan children aged between five and 14 forced to work, officials and aid groups had gathered to discuss ways of tackling child exploitation. The meeting in the southern Cunene province was expected to highlight children's rights, an issue that has largely been ignored in Angola so far. Widespread poverty and social upheavals as a result of the decades-long civil war are seen as the main reasons why children are forced to work instead of attending school.

The legal minimum age for employment in Angola is 14 years. However, according to the International Labour Organisation, many younger children work on family farms, as domestic servants, and in the informal economy. Family-based child labour in the subsistence agricultural sector is common. "Children are hungry and are unable to feed themselves. This leads them to the streets to seek employment - there really is no other option, given the weak system of social welfare in Angola. Most often the meagre earnings of these children help to support unemployed parents and the elderly," Sam Kambarami, the acting director of Save the Children Fund-US, explained.

Primary school attendance in Angola stands at just over 50 percent, and many children in the underdeveloped interior of the country also have no access to basic health care. "This is an extremely complex issue, which has its roots in the war. Most of the children who are currently working are doing so because they have lost either one or both parents in the war. But in some cases, the lack of schools in some parts of the country means that children have to work at an early age," said UN Children's Fund's child protection officer, Abubacar Sultan.

It was important to continue with attempts to re-unite families separated during the war, and provide educational opportunities for children who did not have access to education, he added. "There is wide recognition that, in some cases, some families do not have any choice but to send their children to work. The solution therefore is to consider how to combine schooling with work that is not exploitative," Sultan explained. (IRIN)

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