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The Young Fishers of Nkhotakota’s Chauma Island

The Young Fishers of Nkhotakota’s Chauma Island

There is a government-owned primary school on an island in Nkhotakota District in Central Malawi which is at the risk of closure due to low enrollment. Why? Parents here choose to send their children to do fishing activities on Lake Malawi rather than go to school!

Children as young as 13-year-olds spend nights on the lake fishing. They have an obligation to offer economic support to their families.

It takes about an hour by boat on the lake from Ngala Fishing Beach to reach Chauma Island on the northern part of Nkhotakota.

As it is probably one of the hardest-to-reach areas in the district, there is no access to clean and portable water and electricity as well as health facilities, just to mention but a few essential services.

However, to improve access to education, a state-owned primary school - Chauma - is operational. It has classes: Standard 1 to 6.  

Although it was opened in 1995, the school has only 150 pupils. Headmaster Dunstan Kwacha confirms that the 29-year-old school is not growing in several respects.

Apart from lacking proper infrastructure, most parents choose to send their children to the lake for fishing activities rather than go to school.

“Sometimes we go to work and find that there is no single learner in the whole classroom. They have all gone to the lake. Even young girls are involved in fishing activities. The girls go to catch fish using mosquito nets. It is a discouragement to our duty,” says Kwacha.

The Chauma Primary School headmaster further discloses that the tendency of sending young boys and girls to the lake, which he describes as a systematic form of child labour, has hugely impacted on the provision of education in standards 4 to 6.

He wishes there were interventions by the government as well as non-state actors to reverse the trend. 

I found a 13-year-old-boy I shall call Vincent on Chauma Fishing Beach. He had just arrived ashore on a canoe with chambo fish.

“Yes, it has been a good day for fishing. I have managed to catch chambo valued at K5000,” he says with a smiling face in response to my question on how the day was on the lake.

The young fisher said poverty is a major challenge that forces him into the job. He must do this to assist his parents bring food on the table. Sometimes Vincent joins teams of older fishermen to work on the lake all night long.

“We face challenges. I remember one night an older fisher stole my fishing gear. We are also harassed on simple matters,” adds the teenager.

Vincent admits that this job is a threat to his educational journey. He says: “I would like to be a soldier when I grow up.”

But he misses classes some days to either catch fish or sell his catch at the nearby market.

Another boy I shall call Mike is aged 14. I also found him arriving on the beach from the lake. He was with his young brother on the lake.

Mike tells me he is in Standard 6 at Chauma Junior Primary School.

“Currently the school is closed due to the recent floods. This has given us the opportunity to fully concentrate on fishing. We use the money we get after selling our fish to buy school uniforms, exercise books and food,” he says.

Mike and Vincent are only two of scores of children involved in fishing on the lake in Nkhotakota district to raise funds for school and household necessities. Sometimes, they miss classes to go fishing. These are children from ultra-poor homes.

Senior Chief Kanyenda of the area is concerned with the situation. He says people in the area pushed the authorities to facilitate the opening of the school some years back for children to easily access primary school education and to end this form of child labour.

The traditional leader says my findings are an eye opener on the situation.

“We will work with local structures such as Beach Village Committees as well as parents to put restrictions on the involvement of children in these activities. I also know that some children are involved in rice farming; we need to apply similar measures,” he says.

Malawi is a signatory to Convention 138 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on the Minimum Age on Entry into Employment and Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. It is also a signatory to a string of other conventions on the rights of children.

Despite all this commitment, a 2015 National Child Labour Survey found that 38 % of children aged between 5 and 17 in this country were into child labour. Out of these, 72% were in the agriculture sector; 23 percent in domestic labour and 5% in other sectors.

Nellie Kapatuka, Public Relations Officer for the Ministry of Labor, accuses those responsible for caring for children of negligence.

“The government is doing everything possible to make children free from the bondage of these evil doings and exploitation of children. At the national level, the government has done a lot in terms of development of various legal and policy instruments. These include the Child Protection and Justice Act and the National Action Plan on Child Labour,” she observes in a written response.

Most of the parents here in Nkhotakota argue that the children are engaged in fishing activities to help families raise money for their school need, but the District Principal Education Officer Willard Magunda says there are alternatives to subjecting learners to child labour in order to mobilize money for educational expenses.

“Whenever we are talking about school uniforms or we are talking about examination fees, we have the responsibility shifted to parents so that they take care of relevant costs. In other cases, we can use money from the School Improvement Grant (SIG) to select some of the needy learners and buy uniforms for them,” says Magunda.  

Thokozani Phiri is the Monitoring and Evaluation Manager for Forum for African Women Educationalists in Malawi (FAWEMA).

She says FAWEMA is also concerned that girls and boys are into child labour in Nkhotakota and other districts.

“It is very unfortunate that even in this age these things are happening. As FAWEMA, we are working with our youth champions here in Nkhotakota and one of their roles is to address those challenges,” she says.

Under the Addressing the Learning Crisis through Systems Strengthening Project which the organization is implementing, the youth champions were empowered to advocate for the rights of young people in education in Nkhotakota district.

Education is the key to the better future, not child labour! says Phiri, there is a need for interventions that can assist ending the tendency of sending children to do fishing activities instead of attending classes.

If the trends in Nkhotakota continue unabated, it is unlikely that Malawi will attain its obligations on global commitments on improving children’s welfare by ensuring that all children have a safe, healthy and well-educated childhood as a found

ation for a productive adult life.

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Last modified on Friday, 22/03/2024

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