June 3, 2008

Child labour encouraged by poor record keeping

More than a million Malawian children are still being used as labourers, according to the latest available estimates, but legislation compelling birth registrations has been delayed by government infighting and the resultant political turmoil. A senior official of the national registration bureau in the president's office, Lawrence Hussein, said that "Malawian children have no document to show when they were born. We can hardly tell who is a child."

The colonial-era 1904 Birth and Deaths Act, which does not require citizens to be registered at birth, nor deaths to be reported to the authorities, is still in force. Consequently, even though Malawi is a signatory to numerous conventions against child labour, including the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, the 1973 International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 138 (setting a minimum working age of 18), and the 1999 ILO Convention 182 (outlawing child labour), child protection officers cannot verify the ages of people suspected of being employed as child labourers.

The National Registration Bill was presented to parliament in 2006 for ratification, but has yet to be passed because deliberations over annual budgets and legislation have been repeatedly suspended due to political wrangling. At present, the burden of registration rests on the parent or guardian to travel to Blantyre, Malawi's second city, to register the birth of a child if they so wish; they also have to pay the administrative costs of issuing a birth certificate.

The last government survey of child labour and trafficking was published in 2002 and revealed that about 1.4 million youngsters, or 29 percent of the population younger than 17, was engaged in child labour; of these, about 734,000 were working in the agriculture industry, and 288,000 were said to be involved in hazardous labour. (IRIN)


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