June 4, 2002

Child Labour Common in Zanzibar

A recent rapid assessment by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), an associate organisation of the United Nations, has found that child labour is "common" in Zanzibar, with prostitution, fisheries and seaweed farming among the "most hazardous" sectors in which children are involved.

The report also found evidence of child labour on clove plantations in Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous island chain within Tanzania, and in the hotel and tourism sector, for which it is also famous, although the levels of child labour in these sectors were classified as "moderate". The results were published last week in a report of the ILO's rapid assessment on the worst forms of child labour in Zanzibar, which was conducted in June 2001.

The information was collected from 489 respondents over a five-day period. The 2001 Situation Analysis of Children in Tanzania recently released by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) also painted a depressing picture, noting that, while the country had maintained relative stability and improved its economic performance, this had not translated into real improvements in the lives of children. "Tanzania has not met 2000 targets, and is far from being on track to meet 2015 international development targets," the report stated. "Instead, virtually every critical measure of child wellbeing stagnated or declined through the 1990s."

Because the ILO report on Zanzibar was on the basis of a rapid assessment, it does not provide an in-depth analysis of the impact of child labour, according to sources at the organisation. However, it does propose a series of measures that would go some way towards tackling the problem. These included: a sensitisation process for all stakeholders about the impact of child labour; measures to withdraw children from child labour in fishing and prostitution, while providing alternative income sources; formulation of bylaws restricting child labour; and a curb on the tourist-induced influx of western influences on Zanzibari people.

According to the report, the main causes of child labour are poverty, irresponsible parents, family breakdown, a lack of alternatives for children after they have completed their formal education, and children's desire to be financially independent from their parents. Children between the ages of six and 14 were found to be involved in the preparation of seeds, planting, harvesting and drying processes on seaweed farms on the east coast of Unguja (the main island of Zanzibar, often referred to as simply Zanzibar), where working environments were reported to be "dangerous".

Meanwhile, through the process of "physical counting", researchers revealed there were some 50 child prostitutes (aged between 14 and 18) in the Stone Town, the main urban centre on Unguja. None of these children were reported to be attending school, but, of the child prostitutes, only three percent were said to have originated in Zanzibar. The extent of child labour in Zanzibar varied not only by sector but also according to the time of year, with the high tourist season and harvest time significantly increasing the levels of child labour, according to the ILO report.

Whereas the situation might not be as serious as in other African or Asian countries, the Zanzibar government regarded child labour, especially in the fishing industry, as an issue needing to be tackled immediately, Omar Shajak, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Employment, Youth Women and Children, told IRIN at the weekend. "It is a serious concern for the government, and it will continue if measures to reduce it are not taken," he said. Shajak said the Zanzibar government and its development partners had assessed the ILO findings at a recent workshop, and would now address the issue through programmes such as an existing ILO pilot-project, aimed at empowering women to reduce child labour. There was also a particular need for an advocacy campaign to curb child prostitution, according to Shajak. "We want to make sure that the norms, attitudes and the values of Zanzibar are inculcated in the younger generation," he said. "There needs to be an advocacy campaign among men, but the young also need to learn that prostitution is not a good way to earn money." (IRIN)

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