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African Youth Compelled to Choose Cash Over School

FILE: Kenyan child Irene Wanzilla, 10, lugs a bucket of broken rocks after hammering them alongside her mother and siblings at a Nairobi-area quarry, Sept. 29, 2020. The children were pulled from school after their mother lost her job due to the Cornavirus pandemic.

With Africa facing tough economic conditions, more and more young people aged seven to fourteen are compelled to forego school to earn money to help feed their families. Analysts say the Covid-19 pandemic and inadequate national social “safety nets” are making the situation even worse.

Deep in Africa’s Sub-Saharan mines, many children toil daily instead of taking lessons in school. Others are in factories working alongside adults, often in hazardous environments. In countries including South-Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya, youths endanger their lives as child soldiers. In many Sub-Saharan Africa cities, child street vendors and beggars in many cities face daily dangers from traffic, weather, and sexual violence.

Gabriella Waaijman, Humanitarian Director at NGO Save the Children, reflects on the situation and the conditions that fuel it.

“Children are telling us that they feel hungry. A lot of kids are also being pulled out of school and being added to the workforce to support the family income and a lot of girls unfortunately are being married off because families can't afford to raise and feed them” Gabriella said.

Parvin Ngala, NGO Oxfam Regional Director for the Horn, East and Central Africa, says that families who can’t afford feeding their kids push them into labor.

“A family that can't afford much more than just a little bit of bread and a couple of months later, they end up in clinics with exactly the same problem, they then push children into work. For starters, it's not a dignified way of work, is not good for the children.”

Child labor in tobacco has been termed one of the worst forms of child labor due to the hazardous nature of handling tobacco. In Ghana and Ivory Coast, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 2.1 million children work in cocoa production in Ivory Coast and Ghana.

A joint report released by the ILO and UNICEF on May 2022 underscored the impact of social protection to combat child labor. The report says that providing families with direct financial and other assistance can help reduce parents resorting to sending their children to work and marrying off daughters to reduce the number of hungry mouths at the table. The report added that identifying particularly vulnerable groups of children and their specific needs is essential for the elimination of child labor.

And Sub-Saharan Africa is not alone in dealing with this dilemma. The U.S. Department of State said that for the first time in two decades, child labor globally is rising, and that between 2016 and 2020, the number of children working instead of attending school rose from 152 million to 160 million, and that COVID has exacerbated the problem.

The State Department report added that it needs better data to better understand the problems causing the rise of child labor to create effective solutions.