Michael Magoronga, Midlands Correspondent
AUTHORITIES have raised a red flag over rampant cases of child labour where children are dropping out of school to venture into the mining sector.
While some are operating as syndicates to conduct illegal mining activities, others are said to be employed at some established mines.
The revelations come at a time when reports indicate that only 75 percent of learners managed to return to schools following the re-opening of schools.
Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) chief executive officer, Mr Wellington Takavarasha, who was addressing a virtual Kwekwe Press Club recently, said child labour cases were a serious cause for concern.
“Child labour is and remains illegal in the country. But worryingly, the cases are on the increase especially in Bulawayo and the Midlands Provinces where children of school-going age are dropping out of school to join the mining sector,” said Mr Takavarasha.
He said his organisation has since embarked on a campaign to try and raise awareness on the dangers of employing young children.
“We have engaged stakeholders and awareness campaigns over the issue where we want to eradicate child labour within the sector,” said Mr Takavarasha.
According to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, about 24 percent of learners have not returned to school following re-opening of the third term last week.
Ministry spokesperson, Mr Taungana Ndoro, attributed the drop out to early pregnancies for girls while boys ventured into artisanal mining whilst another number failed to pay tuition fees.
“So far learners’ attendance is at 76 percent and what we are doing is that we are trying to get pupils back to school. We are having community outreach programs in all our districts throughout the country,” he said.
“We are encouraging all learners that have dropped out of school for any reason or another to come back to school.”
Mr Ndoro said the outreach programmes were also targeting boys in the mining areas.
“We also have boys who are venturing into artisanal mining and other things. We want them to come back to school,” he said.
Labour expert, Mr Japhet Moyo said the Covid-19-induced lockdown has left most learners with nothing to do hence they ended up venturing into mining. He also said the learners lacked recreational activities and that hunger was also a push factor for poor families.
“You find out that the lockdown had its own adverse effects because the children were lying idle. Girls ended up thinking of hanging up with men while boys ventured into mining activities,” said Mr Moyo.
“There was no soccer or any other recreational activity to talk about, so, they ended up thinking of all those negative things.
“Due to the lockdown, some parents were left with no means to sustain their families. This pushed some boys into mining activities as they tried to either raise fees, eke a living and sustain themselves.”
Stakeholders are optimistic that the re-opening of schools will serve as a panacea to child pregnancies and underage labour.
“We remain hopeful that the re-opening of schools will give the children something to do. We should hope and continue encouraging our children that nothing beats education,” said Mr Moyo.
“The opening of schools will also come with recreational activities and sporting activities, something that keeps them busy.”