WINDHOEK - Child labour is a global concern, with the agricultural sector accounting for the majority of child labourers.
Across regions and countries, agriculture is usually the main sector for children’s economic activity. However, there is considerable variation in the prevalence of child labour between and within countries. Agricultural child labour is mainly unpaid work on smallholder family farms, but is also found on commercial farms and plantations as well as through forced and trafficked child labour.
New Era asked the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation the sector that has the highest prevalence of child labour in Namibia.
The ministry’s executive director, Bro-Matthew Shinguadja, revealed that child labour is most prevalent in the agricultural sector in Namibia, especially in the northern regions. He added that child labour is equally prevalent in the domestic sector, and street vending.
However, Namibia Farm Workers Union (NAFWU) General Secretary, Rocco Nguvauva, says child labour is tricky in the agricultural community, especially among black communities.
“I, myself, grew up on my father’s farm herding cattle and working the gardens during the holidays. Do we also classify that as child labour? So, well from a labour movement perspective child labour is currently on the rise, especially from the communities of the marginalised. Young adults do not want to go to school because they have tasted the fruits of money,” he observed.
He said it becomes worrying when one finds young boys going to the Ministry of Home Affairs to register as adults just because they want to work to make a living.
However, Nguvauva said, as a union through its stakeholders and regulatory frameworks, the ministry of labour has a dedicated team of inspectors who see to it that child labour is minimised.
Shinguadja revealed that the labour of ministry has an annual plan of conducting inspections in all sectors of the economy to see to it that there is no child under the age of 18 years working or doing hazardous work.
So far, he said the ministry has an inter-ministerial committee comprising the Ministry of Gender and Child Welfare, Ministry of Safety and Security, Ministry of Health and Social Services, Ombudsman’s Office, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration, Ministry of Sport, Youth and National Service to do joint inspections and investigations and alert each other if child labour or trafficking is detected.
He added that educational awareness is also done during inspections.
Asked if Namibia is doing enough to combat the scourge of child labour,
Shinguadja said, “Yes, the level of child labour is low compared to other countries in the region.”
The government has put measures in place such as the Labour Act, which protects young children from child labour. There are policies in place in every workplace that prohibit child labour. The government has also ratified the International Labour Organization Convention on Child Labour.
Another issue of concern to NAFWU is the impact of HIV/AIDS in the farming sector, which is on the rise.
However, Nguvauva noted that the union is doing its best to educate workers through its stakeholders about the epidemic. He reasoned that the root cause is that at times the farms are outreached and lack of contraceptives and sharing of multiple partners.
Asked on his take on the state of the labour sector in commercial and communal farms in Namibia 29 years after independence, Nguvauva said nothing much has changed. He maintained about 90 percent of the population derives its subsistence from the land, either as commercial or subsistence farmers, or as workers employed in agriculture.
However, he argued that the structure of land ownership and tenure does not only affect those who derive their livelihood directly from the land.
He said the racially weighted distribution of land was an essential feature in the colonial exploitation of Namibia’s resources, directly affecting the profitability not only of settler agriculture, but also of mining and the industrial sector.
“As in pre-independence Namibia, ‘the whole wage structure and labour supply system depended critically on the land divisions in the country’. Access to land determined the supply and cost of Namibian labour to the colonial economy. So, the large-scale dispossession of black Namibians was as much intended to provide white settlers with land, as it was to deny black Namibians access to the same land, thereby denying them access to commercial agricultural production and forcing them into wage labour,” he maintained.
He, however, agreed that the introduction of the minimum wage has brought a positive impact on farm workers’ living and working conditions, citing that before the Labour Act of 1992 and 2007 came into force, farm workers’ wages were determined by race the more inferior one was the lower they salary they would get and verse versa.
“A typical example is that of the San people, who were being maltreated [and regarded] as more inferior than any other person or race. After the implementation of the minimum wage with the help of our research institution, LaRRI ( Labour Resource and Research Institute). They conducted a successful research whereby we could take information on how the implementation was going. Indeed, yes, it was not what we earmarked for but it’s a stepping stone to get to greater heights. Our objective is to have a decent wage for all farm workers,” Nguvauva remarked.
The current minimum wage is N$900 average plus N$500 rations. Other benefits include accommodation, water and sanitation and workers are allowed to keep livestock and a garden if required to stay at the farm.