Malawian Children in Parent-Sponsored Servitude in Mozambique
Malawi was among 189 countries that adopted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 but the country managed to achieve only four of the eight goals by 2015 due to several challenges.
In 2015, The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by the UN as a successor to the MDGs, with a deadline of 2030.
Our reporter Chikondi Mphande focuses on some key issues that prevented Malawi from achieving MDG 2 on Universal Primary Education and MDG 1 on Hunger and Poverty Reduction, and how these might also affect the country's efforts to achieve the SDGs if no serious action is taken.
Chikondi uncovers a new form of slavery where some Malawian parents are giving away their children to herd animals and work in crop fields in Mozambique instead of going to school.
In this investigation, Chikondi encounters some children with sad stories of how they suffer ill-treatment and how they had to foot long distances returning home after slavery experiences in a foreign land.
For surrendering their children to this form of slavery, the parents get paid between K40, 000 and K60, 000 for each child per year. These are usually children aged between eight and 15 years old.
"I came here in June last year. I look after a herd of six cows. The owner of the cattle agreed with my parents. They pay my parents for the work I am doing. But I wish I had clothes and shoes, at least".
That's Chilungamo, a Malawian boy. He is 15 years old.
I met him in a village called Masoko in Mozambique. He tells me he is not here by choice but he was forced to quit school.
His dream was to become a medical doctor. But family poverty forced him into this situation.
I also met James. He is aged 11. He too is in Mozambique working. In Malawi, he comes from Chakana in Dedza district. I also met 12-year-old Joseph - a Standard 2 drop out from Kaboola village, also in Dedza. Her mother was here last month-end to collect money for the work he is doing
"I dropped out of school while in Standard 2 and came here to herd cattle. I look after a herd of 17 cows. I miss home quite a lot.
"At first, I refused to come here. I told my parents I needed to be in school. But my parents forced me. They said I would not be here for a long time. I wish I could continue with school. I miss school,” said James.
These are but a few of the many children, all boys, that I met in rural parts of Mozambique on the border with Malawi working as herd boys. All of them were in tattered clothes and walked about with no shoes on their feet. A common denominator about their feelings is that they all long to return home and go school.
Another boy, David, was forced to travel with strangers to Mozambique when he was in Standard 2.
He had no clue of where he was going and what he would do there. He suddenly found himself herding cattle. He was out feeding cattle from six in the morning to six in the evening.
Treatment was harsh. For most days he was not given food when he was out in the bush.
That’s what prompted him to think of escaping the slavery. He walked on foot. Through bushes in uncharted paths until one day, he was back in Malawi. Luckily, well-wishers assisted him to retrace home.
"I lived in the bush with cattle all day. The owner of the animals was cruel to me. I really missed school. I am happy I am back.
“I decided to come back because the work was too much. I walked back home. I left Mozambique around six in the morning and got home around two in the afternoon of the following day. I went to Mozambique against my will. I was forced by my parents. This practice is common here,” said David.
In a village called James in Mozambique, I met Gilibetiyo Shane. He is a livestock farmer.
He says there is no secret about what is going on. Children come to work and their parents get paid.
"The best are boys in the age range of 12, 15 and 20. They come from either Malawi or Mozambique. As long as their parents agree, it is fine. We pay the parents. If the boys are from Malawi, we pay per month for each animal,” said Shane.
Migeriro Lesi comes from Basho village in neighboring Mozambique. He faults Malawian parents and guardians for the situation the children are in. He says from the money the parents collect as payment for the children’s work, they should at least buy them clothes.
"They are just greedy parents. They come to collect money for work done by their children and buy the children nothing? Being a herd boy is tough work. Because of the suffering, some children quit. The rights of the children are being violated by their own parents, not us," challenges Lesi.
Group Village Headman Fosa of Dedza is a worried person. He acknowledges the problem but says it is difficult to police as parents do it discreetly. They only discover children are missing.
"It is to do with poverty. These parents let children go without even alerting us, chiefs. Sometimes we force the parents to bring the children back home to continue school," said Fosa.
Education rights advocate, Benedicto Kondowe, describes this as a violation of a child’s right to education.
Kondowe said it is sad that in Malawi the United Nations goal to ensure that all children have access to primary school and to ensure that children have access to quality education is being compromised.
But some parents I spoke to think the authorities do not understand a thing and are missing the point. No parent would happily see this going-on. Desperate situations, desperate solutions, they argue.
Poverty, they tell me, can make people do the most unimaginable things.
Here is Sidaya Jamison. A mother of five. She let one of her children go to Mozambique. He was back in three months.
"I am struggling to make ends meet. That is why I sent my child to Mozambique. To source money to buy our basic needs. Not that I enjoy that. Government should help us. I am a single mother. I had to take the risk of letting my child go with a stranger to a place I don’t know in Mozambique. Luckily, he is back. He faced challenges there. He was only away for three months," said Jamison.
However, Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Michael Kaiyatsa says poverty should not be an excuse for parents to violate their children's rights.
He stresses the need for the government to empower villagers economically to avoid this malpractice.
"As human rights defenders, we are concerned, and there is a need for the country to reach out to people in rural areas with economic empowerment programmes. This will help to eradicate extreme poverty and reduce the number of people suffering from hunger. That way, parents will stop sending their children to Mozambique," observes Kaiyatsa.
Sustainable Development Goal 16.2 in the UN 2030 Agenda calls on nations to work to end all forms of violence against children.
This is a renewal of the global desire to ensure that every child lives free from neglect, abuse, exploitation and fear.
The government says efforts are being made for children to have access to quality education and to eradicate poverty and hunger but inadequate resources is a serious setback for Malawi.
The developments in Dedza are a clear indication that children’s rights and their wellbeing are not being prioritized. They are left behind. It is child labor of unacceptable proportions. Evidence of poor parenting and a lack of government’s oversight.
This could defeat the 2030 sustainable development goals agenda on children rights. Poverty is no justification for parents to turn children to breadwinners, as Mr. Kayiyatsa of CHRR says, they belong in school.
The abuse and exploitation that children in Dedza are being subjected to needs an immediate stop.
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