Concerns raised that orphaned KZN learners may be forced into child labour following floods

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The KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Education, Kwazi Mshengu, says the recent floods have left many learners orphaned, which might force them into child labour. Mshengu was taking part in a panel discussion at the fifth Global Conference on the Eradication of Child Labour in Durban.

Mshengu believes that historical injustice is primarily to blame for South Africa’s child labour and lack of education. He claims that children working in agriculture are forced to work due to social disparities.

He says, however, that South Africa has made progress in keeping children in school, adding that statistics show that more than 90% of children in the country are now attending school.

The United Nations (UN) says statistics show that child labour increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Child labour around the world:

Child labour around the world by SABC Digital News

Educators and education unions in various countries have acted decisively to ensure that children who have dropped out during the pandemic, go back to school.

Teachers from different countries say the COVID-19 pandemic is a major setback to programmes to keep children in school.

Coordinator for the Teachers Trade Union of Malawi, Pilirani Kamaliza, says many children in his country dropped out of school, with girls being forced into marriages to support their families during the pandemic.

He says they are working with educators to reintegrate learners back into schools.

“In 2019 since the start of our project before COVID-19 we had registered very encouraging results in terms of bringing back children who dropped out of schools but also preventing children who were in schools. We do train teachers and also provide remedial classes for those children who were withdrawn from child labour and those children who are already in school but are at risk.”

SA makes strides to keep children in school 

Mshengu says historical injustice is mainly to blame for child labour and lack of education in South Africa. He says children working in the agriculture sector are being forced into labour because of social disparities.

However, he says South Africa has made strides in keeping children in school. Mshengu says statistics show that over 90% of children in the country are now going to school.

“Those children who go and do work in agricultural space they don’t do so in their own family subsistence farming. They are forced to go and work in farms, well-established farms, for cheap labour, that matters. So, we are not only dealing with child labour but we are dealing with a problem of cheap labour as a result of these historical injustices I’ve spoken about.”

Save the Children has also raised concerns regarding the safety of children after the floods:

Mshengu says the recent floods have left many learners as orphans, which might force them into child labour.

“We now are sitting with learners who have nothing. They have no families, they have no homes. Currently, they are sheltered in community halls and these are learners that, if we don’t do something drastic as a people to protect them, they will be forced to child labour. It now calls on all the people to make sure that we join hands so they don’t find themselves having to go to forced labour in order to make a living.”

Educators and education unions say all children should be protected and provided with quality education.