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THOUSANDS of children are still put to work in SA, despite this being illegal and measures such as the child-support grant and free schooling that are designed to curb child labour.
Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant yesterday released the results of the “Survey on the Activities of Young People” in Tzaneen, Limpopo, revealing that at least 121 000 children were engaged in economic activities in 2010.
The survey was conducted by Statistics SA in that year, and revealed shocking statistics reflecting high levels of absenteeism from school in order to perform work.
The study also revealed that 90 000 children reported having been injured in the previous year while completing some form of economic activity.
Worryingly, many more incidents go unreported. “Overall, 4,4 million children – over 40 percent of those attending school – were reported to have been absent on five or more days since the beginning of the school year,” Oliphant said. “Of those who were absent for five days or more, 59 000 gave as the main reason for their most recent absence a work-related reason, if work is broadly defined to include helping with household tasks, and looking after their own children and other household members,” she said.
The study also said 47 percent of children engaged in work in the formal economy had missed five school days or more, while the figure increased to 50 percent for children engaged in the informal economy.
Ministerial spokesman Musa Zondi said many of the illegal child labourers in Limpopo and Mpumalanga were also illegal immigrants who had skipped the borders into SA illegally, and were working on farms for low wages.
He called on the Home Affairs Department to assist the Labour Department in addressing this problem, saying child labour inspectors were unable to do their jobs properly in these cases.
Oliphant said SA would abide by the International Labour Organisation’s request for the country to lead the campaign to encourage neighbouring countries to eradicate the worst forms of child labour.
Norman Mabasa, the Limpopo MEC for Health and Social Development, said the department received children as its clients, especially those who were involved in drug and alcohol abuse. “If you have a farm and you employ a child you are like a man with a gun shooting people,” he said.
Patrick Solomons, the director of children’s rights NGO Molo Songololo, said the organisation welcomed the survey.
“We are quite shocked that child labour is still a serious problem in South Africa,” Solomons said.
He added that the increase in economic pressure on families and communities meant more children were at risk than ever.