Malawian Children Working in Slavery Conditions in Mozambique

Malawian Children Working in Slavery Conditions in Mozambique

Betrayal is a painful - but more painful when it comes from your own family; from the people you trust the most. 

This is exactly what is happening in country's border districts like Dedza where parents who are supposed to be on forefront in giving protection are betraying their own children by giving them away to strangers in exchange with money. 

Since 2018, parents in Dedza have been forcing their own children to quit school, and sending them to Mozambique to work in farms as slaves but no action is being taken by authorities to end this until now. 

I dropped out of school while in Standard 2. Some people came to our home, saying they want a herd boy. l refused. l told them l am a school boy but my parents forced me to come here in Mozambique, saying l will not work for too long. I look after 12 cows here. My mother comes to collect the money but l lack a lot of basic needs...l wish l continued with my education.” 

That's John, not his real name. He is 12 years and despite being a last born in a family of four, her parents from Fosa Village, Traditional Authority Kachere in Dedza forced him to travel to Mozambique with strangers to work in farms. 

John is one of several children from Dedza we found in Mozambique in January 2024, working in farms. 

For years now, there is a serious violation of children rights in Dedza where children are being treated as breadwinners, withdrawn from school, sent to Mozambique where they are abused and exploited. 

"I dropped out of school while in Standard 1. I came here to work as a herd boy. l look after 17 cows. l lack clothes, shoes and food after my mother abandoned me here. l miss home." 

That’s William, aged 11 from Mpalale village in Dedza, Malawi. He is the other boy l found in Mozambique working as a herd boy. 

William sentiments were echoed by another boy whom we shall call Mariko. 

"l came here in January last year. l wanted to become an engineer but l dropped out of school and forced to come here. l look after six cows. That is what I am doing here in Daniyelo village here in Mozambique. They agreed with my parents a payment of K100 thousand per year, but I do not benefit anything from that. You see, I don’t even have proper clothes or shoes," laments Mariko. 

Above all, child trafficking is now the order of the day where parents are pocketing K100 thousand or K150 thousand in some cases when their children work for a year as herd boys. 

National Programs Officer responsible for human trafficking at United Nations on Drugs and Crimes, Mr Maxwell Matewere says it is unfortunate child trafficking is a serious challenge especially in border districts and children are most victims. 

"Child and human trafficking have taken a centre stage in this rural part of Dedza. Apart from children being sent to Mozambique to work as herd boys and in farms; some parents are also trafficked too in search on green pastures," says Matewere. 

On my visit to Mozambique, l found young boys between the age of 8 and 15 from Malawi working as herd boys in Mozambican villages. Most of these boys were withdrawn from school and sent here Mozambique by their own parents. 

It was heartbreaking to see this new form of slavery where some parents are giving away their children to herd animals and work in crop fields in Mozambique. 

According to the 2015 National Child Labor Study (NCLS), the majority of children aged between 5 and 17 years old work in the agriculture sector. 

Mustafa Lozo is a livestock farmer in James Village in Mozambique. He has several cows and depends on boys from both Malawi and Mozambique to look after his livestock. 

"For these cows, we depend on boys between the age of 12, 15 and 20 to take care of it. Some boys come from Malawi; some boys are from here in Mozambique. We agree with the boy’s parents on the issue of payment. If the boys are from Malawi, rearing six cows or less, we pay K100 thousand kwacha per year,” says Lozo. 

His sentiments are echoed by another livestock farmer Migeriro Lesi from Basho Village in Mozambique. He faults Malawian parents for collecting payment for a job done by their children without considering buying even cloths for them. 

"Most parents are greedy. They came to collect  the money for the job done by their children without considering that the job of herd boy is tough. This is a serious concern to us because some children quit the job and their rights are violated by their own parents not us,” says Lesi. 

In my investigation, l encountered some children with sad stories on how they are ill-treated and some had to travel on foot long distances returning home after a slavery experience away in Mozambique.

Back in Malawi, l Visited a number of villages to meet survivors of this child abuse. Some boys run away from Mozambique following challenges they faced after working for some time there. 

Here are some of the lamentations of some of the boys who managed to make it back 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,” said James. 

“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. It’s all over here,” another boy, Amon laments. 

Some parents say poverty is the main reason forcing them to send their children to Mozambique. 

Maria Kamoto is one of parents from Kachere in Dedza and she explains: "I am struggling to make ends meet. That is why I sent my child to Mozambique. To source money to buy our basic needs is tough. 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.” 

Sustainable Development Goal 16.2 in the 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. What is happening in Malawi is in violation of this. 

Group Village Headman Fosa acknowledges the tendency of sending children to work in Mozambique among some parents in his area, saying chiefs are not informed when children are taken by strangers.

 Executive Director of Civic Society Education Coalition Benedicto Kondowe says this is violation of children's rights. 

"What is happening is unacceptable. Parents are violating the right to education for   their children hence the need for the law enforcers to start arresting such parents," he suggests. 

On his part, Executive Director of Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation Michael Kaiyatsa describe the parents’ behavior as unfortunate saying illiteracy is the main factor hence the need to sensitize villagers on the dangers of such malpractice. 

 "We are very concerned. This is child labor of unacceptable proportions. It is evidence of poor parenting and lack of government oversight. Poverty is no justification for parents to turn children to breadwinners; they belong in school," says Kaiyatsa. 

Child labour is a serious issue that deprives children from their childhood, interfering with their ability to attend regular school, and it is harmful to their physical and mental development. 

What is happening in country’s border districts is a violation of children's rights and one would wonder how do these parents live normal life here in Malawi while their children as young as ten are with strangers in Mozambique. 

Currently, statistics show that 37 percent of children in Malawi are involved in child labour, a sign that government has to take serious action to end the malpractice.

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