As the ECLT Foundation concludes two of our largest field projects, which have run in districts of Malawi and Tanzania since 2011, I would like to share some reflections on how concrete advancements towards eliminating child labour have been made possible through partnership with communities, implementing partners, district administrators and many other local stakeholders, as well as through the sustained cooperation with the two national governments.
The Child Labour Elimination Actions for Real Change (CLEAR) and Promoting Sustainable Practices to Eradicate Child Labour in Tobacco (PROSPER) projects were developed with larger budgets and target areas than average ECLT Foundation projects, in order to respond to the alarming magnitude of the problem of child labour in this part of the world.
According to the International Labour Organization, 168 million children are still engaged in child labour worldwide with 85 million in hazardous work. Agriculture remains the sector with highest rates of child labour by far, accounting for 59% of all children engaged in labour – over 98 million children. Despite a decline from 2008 to 2012, Sub-Saharan Africa is still the region where this is the biggest problem.
Communities coming together against child labour
The foundation’s vast experience working against child labour in tobacco fields has shown us that the problem must be addressed at its complex roots. In both the CLEAR and PROSPER projects, the ECLT Foundation has worked with implementing partners to make the elimination of child labour a priority at community, district and national levels.
The ECLT Foundation and our project staff worked with leaders in the target communities of the project areas in Malawi and Tanzania to create a shared understanding of the problem and ways forward. Working together with the local leaders, project staff has mobilised communities and carried out tailored programmes, which have effective and measurable solutions for families such as savings schemes that allow them to send children to school, nutrition gardens, skills building, safety and food diversification in farms, support for women’s credit and entrepreneurial projects, efficient stoves, water projects. The list goes on with a number of practical ways that families have benefited from the projects.
Communities were engaged and given the means to build and improve essential infrastructure. Neighbours came together to participate in the construction of classrooms, latrines, teacher’s housing and desks — essentials that must be in place if children are to be educated and removed from the fields. This was done with support from local government and often, participation from the tobacco businesses that are present in the area.
CLEAR and PROSPER have also enabled us to cooperate with the tobacco supply chain so that actions from all stakeholders are complementary and we strive to reach the vulnerable populations in the project regions in Malawi and Tanzania. The accomplishments of these two projects are measurable results and evidence of the impact of the financial commitment by our members and donors.
Beyond communities to national and regional levels
Sadly, child labour is a condition that causes a domino effect which is seldom overcome without specific interventions or policies at multiple levels. Aside from poverty and poor education, it is often caused by a gap in policies or implementation and compounded by lack of enforcement or weak legal frameworks. Child labour generally continues to following generations and, therefore, impacts not just an individual child or family but rather the overall quality of life in a country. This means also a wider impact on the ability for business to operate and eventually on the economic opportunities of countries and even regions.
The ECLT Foundation’s CLEAR and PROSPER projects have focused on further aspects of regional and national collaboration to work directly with the governments of Malawi and Tanzania as they address the problem of child labour throughout their countries, in other agricultural communities that grow diverse crops, and also in other tobacco growing areas.
In spite of the long-term nature of child labour, collaboration with both governments through the CLEAR and PROSPER projects have brought about specific commitments to tackle the problem in a coordinated way with leadership and accountability, as well as actions to ensure engagement of private and public sectors. The ECLT Foundation has supported governments to host processes of social dialogue, which create a platform for these commitments by bringing together the decision makers to produce comprehensive plans based on local evidence with actions at many levels.
The ECLT Foundation also seeks to keep the elimination of child labour at the top of national priorities and encourage the spread of good practices through purposeful advocacy. This strengthens and further develops the foundation’s ability to champion the end of child labour in tobacco growing. The synergies that PROSPER and CLEAR have generated are now a permanent vehicle for national advocacy in Malawi and Tanzania.
Celebrating work done and many accomplishments
As the CLEAR and PROSPER projects come to an end, I have the honour of acknowledging all the involved parties particularly the lead implementing organisations Save the Children in Malawi and Winrock International in Tanzania, and their local sub-grantees, who provided specialised and locally-tailored interventions. I am also honoured to congratulate the ECLT Foundation’s programme managers for their vision, accountability, and commitment to the completion of two most ambitious and ground breaking projects in the history of child labour in agriculture and ECLT Foundation.
As with any ending, the conclusion of projects brings some sadness, which I have experienced in my recent visits to Malawi and Tanzania. Two people with whom I spoke made a strong impression. The first is the District Commissioner from Ntchisi in Malawi, Ms. Malango Botoman. She celebrated what has been accomplished but asked, “Child labour in tobacco is not yet eliminated in the district, so what is the next step?”
The second person was one of CLEAR Project beneficiaries, Alex, a former child labourer who started working at 16 in tobacco fields in Kosungo district. Alex attested to the hard working conditions, long hours, and low wages during his child labour years when my colleague and I interviewed him. In another blog reflection, my colleague wrote: “Alex is one of the more than 15,000 children in child labour who were identified in the CLEAR Project. Because of the project, he had the chance to rejoin his family, receive counselling, and finish primary school. His family also received support from the CLEAR Project, including several chickens, which his mother raises for eggs. Alex, now 19 years old, is hoping to become an accountant and is working to graduate from secondary school”. When we spoke with Alex, he advocated for his right to an education and a better life.
Continued support in Malawi and Tanzania
For the ECLT Foundation, the conclusion of these projects represents the opportunity to review what we have learned and where we are headed in the next period. The Foundation wants to celebrate collaborative successes and continue to help Malawian and Tanzanian communities through projects, advocacy, and joint efforts. We are also continuing to support the stakeholder processes advanced in the last five years through selected continuation activities in both countries to ensure further development and sustainability of the commitment to the elimination of child labour in agriculture.
In 2015, the ECLT Foundation developed a strategic plan, which will help us and our stakeholders step into the next era of ECLT projects and programmes with a renewed vision, based on the learnings of projects like CLEAR and PROSPER, and other important work of the recent years. Our thanks to all!