By Catherine Sasman
Vulnerable children, including children living in difficult circumstances (CDCs), as well as orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC) are particularly prone to be exploited for their labour in Namibia.
Other factors also blamed for child labour in the country are poverty and adult unemployment, as well as the HIV/AIDS scourge.
Certain vulnerabilities, a discussion document on child labour suggested, are also gender-based.
The discussion document serves as a basis for a national seminar in Windhoek, with members of various line ministries and relevant agencies, and other countries deliberating on ways to implement the existing legislation and policies in place to mitigate the situation.
The International Labour Organisation has identified four ‘worst forms of child labour’.
These include forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery such as child trafficking; child prostitution; using children to commit crimes; and work which is likely to harm the health, safety and morals of children.
Namibia ratified the Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL) Convention in 2000 and is therefore required to develop appropriate time-bound measures to address the most intolerable forms of child labour.
The country has drafted a National Action Programme on the Elimination of WFCL, which includes action steps against child labour, and is underpinned by the National Development Plan 3 (NDP 3).
Namibia is said to have the necessary legislation in place, which expresses its commitment to prevent and eliminate all forms of child labour.
And despite certain policy gaps, what is lacking, conference participants agreed, is the implementation of the legislative tools.
Conference goers also suggested that a distinction must be drawn between ‘child work’ and ‘child labour’, considering cultural and traditional contexts.
‘Child work’ is considered not harmful and beneficial to the development of the child, as well as benefiting the family and community.
‘Child labour’ on the other hand is exploitative labour likely to be hazardous to the child, and interfering with the education, health and moral or social development of the child.
From the 1999, Namibia Child Activities Surveys, 16 percent of Namibian children of six to 18 are working for pay, profit or family gain. This amounts to 72 405 children. This also accounts for 23% in the rural areas, compared to 2.3% of urban-based children.
Fifty-five percent (or 40 000) of the children working were found to be under the age of 14. Ten percent were in paid employment.
Based on another study and based on data from magistrate and police records, it is believed that 10 to 30 percent of children are also being used by adults to commit crimes.
Moreover, commercial sexual exploitation of children in Namibia takes the form of transactional or exchange of sex work where one person has sex with another who ‘pays’ food, clothes and other household support, as well as classic sex work where one person openly solicits sex in exchange for money.
There is, however, no concrete data about the extent of sex work nationwide, but case evidence suggests that children start in commercial sex work as young as 12.
Although only three cases of child trafficking were found during the TECL (programme Towards the Elimination of Worst forms of Child Labour), concrete cases and anecdotal stories suggest that it is taking place in Namibia. Further anecdotal evidence also suggests that children from neighbouring Angola and Zambia have been trafficked to Namibia to work in the domestic service sector, agricultural sector, the charcoal industry, road construction, vending and commercial sex work. There is, however, no evidence of any organized child trafficking in Namibia.