The snake boys of Tanzania is a name for young boys who are barely old enough to be called teens. From ages as young as 11 years old, these boys descend into holes as deep as 30 meters in the ground known as the “Pit”. Shrouded in heat and darkness, they brave the terrible conditions of the pit, crawling along underground tunnels buried in hot mud.
They breathe in air that poses as much harm to their body as the heat in the pit. At the end of the day, they go home with less than one dollar—and that is on a very good day. Despite laboring so hard and even putting their lives at risk for something that’s worth thousands of dollars, Tanzanite.
Regardless of the name they are called, whether it is the snake boys of Tanzania or the Tantie bagage of Congo, child laborers all share something in common; the harsh reality of the world they were born into. According to the International Labor Organization, one-fifth of all African children are child laborers. This amounts to a total of about 72.1 million and a fraction of these children are engaged in hazardous work.
The Plight of the African Child Laborer
Poverty remains the root cause of child labor in Africa, second only to civil unrest. Despite being lauded for its rapid economic growth, Africa is considered the poorest continent on earth. One reason for this is the rapid population growth that constantly underscores any economic progress in the continent. Unfortunately, it is the children that seem to pay the price for this.
Most African children who are trapped in the endless circle of child labor come from extremely poor backgrounds. With their parents unable to provide for them, these children are forced to the streets to work instead of going to school. Since education is a prerequisite to escaping poverty, child laborers are therefore starting out with a clear disadvantage in life.
They are robbed of their childhood, but that’s not all. Growing up without education means they are less likely to escape from poverty. So in the end, these child laborers take up the place of their parents in the endless circle of poverty.
Forms of Child Labor in Africa
Child laborers are children of school-going age who are involved in one form of labor or another. According to the International Labor Organization, the age group of child laborers is between 5 – 17 years. Among the 246 million child laborers in the world, more than 60 million are from Africa. Child labor in Africa takes many forms such as debt bondage, sexual exploitation, slavery, child trafficking, and forced recruitment into armed conflict.
It is a common sight in Africa to see children on the streets hawking or helping strangers carry heavy loads. While some of these children are conditioned to work as a result of extreme poverty, others are forced to do so without pay. Children sold into debt bondage or slavery work to pay off the family debt or provide for the family. Driven by hunger and with no parental oversight, the children are easily lured into sexual exploitation or forced into drug trafficking.
Armed conflict in Sub-saharan Africa has contributed its fair share of child laborers. Not only are children orphaned, they are also forced to partake in the conflict. Armed with rifles, they are made to match against an enemy who turns out to be children as well. Child soldiers are on the rise in Sub-saharan Africa where war, poverty, and political instability prevail.
Curbing Child Labor in Africa
Child labor is not exclusive to Africa alone, it is a global problem. Therefore, fighting against child labor requires a universal effort. The successful ratification of the “Worst Forms of Child Labor” by the International Labor Organization’s Convention No. 182 is a push in the right direction.
However, individual countries still have a lot of work to do. The ILO is substantiating this effort through initiatives like the “Accelerating Action for the Elimination of Child Labor in Supply Chains in Africa (the ACCEL Africa Project)”.
Although the International Labor Organization is at the forefront of this fight, they are not alone. Other non-governmental organizations are equally helping to combat child labor in Africa by;
- Promoting social accountability
- Providing educational services for the children and the community
- Supporting government laws and policies to combat child labor
- Providing food security and support for low-income families and much more
10 Non-profit Organizations Helping in the Fight Against Child Labor in Africa
#1. Global March Against Child Labor
This is a network of teachers, trade unions, organizations, and activists united with a common goal and that is to eliminate all forms of child labor. To achieve this goal, the organization collaborates with famous personalities around the world. The organization creates awareness using its network and wide audience. Global March Against Child Labor played a key role in the exposure of child slavery in the chocolate industry. Their effort led to the establishment of the International Cocoa Initiative tasked with protecting children in cocoa-growing communities.
#2. Save The Children
This is one of the largest and oldest NGOs fighting against child labor not only in Africa but the world at large. The organization is active in more than 122 countries of the world, 19 of these are African countries. With over 100 years of experience, the organization is making tremendous strides. One of its memorable achievements is the “Declaration of the Rights of the Child” which was drafted by its founder Eglantyne Jebb. The declaration was later adopted by the United Nations in 1959.
#3. International Catholic Child Bureau
The International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE) was founded in 1948. Its network of 80 organizations from around the world work to promote the right and dignity of children around the world. BICE currently operates in 30 countries helping children who are victims of child labor, armed conflicts amongst others. The foundation of its work is based on the Convention on the Rights of Child which the organization helped to develop.
#4. World Vision
World Vision is one of the few that set its sights on fighting the root cause of child labor. Its approach and strategy are not only to protect the victims but also to ensure they get a better life. To achieve this, the organizations work with the government and other agencies to provide a solution to the problem of poverty. It also aims to ameliorate the conditions that foster child labor.
#5. International Initiative to End Child Labor
This is a US-based organization that is unlike other NGOs on this list. The IIECL’s objective in a broader sense is to curb child labor in its worst forms. However, the organization’s approach is quite different. The organization focuses on providing relevant support to other NGOs and governments fighting child labor. The supports come in the forms of; training, technical assistance, research, auditing, resources, program planning and design as well as monitoring and evaluation.
#6. Center for Child Rights
The Center for Child Rights is an NGO based in India where it fights for and defends the right of the child. India has one of the highest percentages of child laborers in the world. The organization actively advocates for the right of children and also promotes this right through public education. In addition to this, it lends a helping hand to other organizations in the country that deal with children. On a government level, the Center for Child Rights is central in monitoring programs and providing legal aid and counseling to victims of child labor.
#7. The ECLT Foundation
Eliminating Child Labor in Tobacco-Growing Foundation’s name speaks for itself. The foundation tackles child labor in tobacco-growing areas with the intent of curbing it. The ECLT collaborates with key players in the tobacco supply chain to limit the impact of the industry on children. As a member of the UN, the foundation’s goal aligns with the 2030 UN Sustainable development goal to eradicate forced labor.
#8. Stop Child Labor Coalition
This is a coalition of 39 groups with a common belief that “no child, regardless of race, sex, nationality, religion, economic status, place of residence, or occupation, should be exploited”. With its unified voice, the coalition aims to influence policies towards ending child labor. Other than advocating for laws that support child labor, the Coalition educates the public on the issues of child labor through campaigns and media events.
#9. Action Against Child Exploration (ACE)
Japanese NGO ACE uses a three-prong approach to deal with the problem of child labor. Its primary focus is on agricultural sectors known to be the highest employer of child laborers. The organization collaborates with local governments to empower the community. To do this, ACE focuses on building schools and establishing sustainable systems within the community. Presently, ACE is active in three countries namely Japan, India, and Ghana where it is working to abolish child labor.
#10. Love 146
Love 146 is a US-based international NGO that fights against child trafficking and exploration. It helps victims of child labor through its survival care programs. The survival care program involves workers who are trained and equipped to restore the children under their care. The organization also teaches these children how to protect themselves from human trafficking and exploitation through critical thinking and skill development. Love 146 currently operates in the United States, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and several countries in Africa.
Despite being a global issue, Africa remains a primary concern to world governments and organizations fighting against child labor. Poverty, war, and political instability are all drivers of child labor in the continent. However, poverty remains a dominant force.
But there’s hope. With the 2030 UN Sustainable development agenda drawing nearer, the world is more united than ever in the fight to end child labor. That being said, let’s not leave it to the government and NGOs alone, we all have a role to play. So, take a stand today and do what you can to end child labor.
Like the stories of the snake boys, we’d like to know what form of child labor is prevalent in your community. Kindly share your story or the story of a child that you know in the comment section below.