National stakeholders take part in two days of roundtable discussions on child labour in Malawi
Started in 2011, the ECLT Foundation-supported Child Labour Elimination Actions for Real Change (CLEAR) Project is slated to end on December 31, 2015. Run locally by ECLT Foundation partners Save the Children Federation Malawi, Inc.; Creative Centre for Community Mobilization (CRECCOM); Total Land Care (TLC); and Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO), and implemented in close partnership with the government of Malawi, the tobacco sector, trade unions, the employers association, and the International Labour Organization, the project has contributed to a better life for thousands of children and families across the country.
On December 3-4, 2015, more than 80 representatives from these stakeholder groups came together in Lilongwe, Malawi, for a social dialogue to review the impact of the CLEAR Project, take stock of the progress made since the 2012 Malawi National Conference on Child Labour in Agriculture, and plan ways forward and discuss a potential new phase of the CLEAR Project in 2016.
“Child labour is a complex issue and it requires a multi-pronged approach,” stated Principal Secretary for Labour and Manpower Development Patrick Kabambe, as he opened the roundtable discussions and expressed his wish to “hear from and engage with all key stakeholders” about best practices that are having an impact in the fight against child labour in Malawi.
The broad discussions at the roundtable revealed several key takeaways, including an announcement from the Ministry of Labour that the national Child Labour Policy of Malawi would be submitted to the President for approval in the coming weeks, as well as an update on efforts currently underway on the national Child Labour Survey.
Further, as the current National Action Plan (NAP) on Child Labour is also coming to a close in 2016, the roundtable provided an opportune moment for the various stakeholders to come together in a tripartite approach to reiterate the importance of the role of the National Steering Committee on Child Labour to build on this dialogue and discern a new path forward in 2016.
Tying together the conversations over the course of the two-day event was the emphasis on working together across sectors. Barbara Martellini, Assistant Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Universal Leaf Tobacco Company and ECLT Foundation board member, noted that both the foundation and the tobacco sector have seen progress through efforts like the CLEAR Project, but that it is not the time to “sit back and simply say we are done.”
Collaboration is key
A continued commitment to finding a “collaborative way forward” was shared and voiced by several key stakeholders.
“Raising awareness in communities and continuing to come together to implement joint projects is key to break down physical, psychological, and social barriers put up by child labour,” said Matthew Pickard, Save the Children’s Malawi Country Director.
Stanley Phiri, the Director for Child Protection at Save the Children, further highlighted the ongoing need for coordination of diverse resources, including financial, technical, and political. Looking forward, he expressed his hope for a strong commitment of the National Steering Committee to provide ongoing leadership and leverage resources needed to continue an effective fight against child labour.
Representatives from Malawi’s social partners, the Employers Consultative Association of Malawi and the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions, further called for continued and intensified efforts to combat child labour in agriculture in Malawi and made strong recommendations for education and vocational training for children and decent employment opportunities in communities as a key strategy in the ongoing fight against the root causes of child labour.
Capitalizing in positive momentum
The roundtable also provided the opportunity to share information from an independent evaluation of efforts from the five-year CLEAR Project. IMPAQ International, a US-based evaluation firm specializing in program evaluation and policy analysis, conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the CLEAR Project in order to present lessons learned, identify good practices, and acknowledge challenges. Full findings from the study will be ready in 2016, but Dr. Ye Zhang and Lauren Lochocki presented some initial results during the first day of discussions.
Of note, IMPAQ’s preliminary findings showed positive results in key areas like school enrolment and targeted interventions like Village Savings & Loan efforts.
In addition to IMPAQ’s presentation, a report on the “Findings & Recommendations” from the CLEAR Project’s pilot Decent Youth Employment Initiative, which resulted from the 2012 Conference, noted several recommendations to the national Steering Committee for broadening strategies under the NAP on addressing issues of Hazardous Child Labour in agriculture supply chains.
Specifically, the report highlighted areas of collaboration with farmers and/or farmers associations and reiterated a strong need to standardize a risk assessment methodology training for farmers and advocated for specific adoption of the Policy Area 5, Section II of the Malawi Child Labour Policy to “Promote the employment of older former child labourers aged between 14-17 years in productive and decent employment, for example, through provision of vocational training combined with training in health and safety in the workplace.”
2016 and beyond
The ideas exchanged and commitments reiterated during the roundtable helped reengage stakeholders and reinvigorate multi-stakeholder actions needed to carry forward the fight against child labour in Malawi.
The importance of the National Steering Committee on Child Labour, under the leadership of the Ministry of Labour & Manpower Development, will continue to play a critical role in 2016 to provide the coordination mechanisms in setting the Child Labour agenda in 2016 and in leading a multi-stakeholder review of the National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labour by 2016.
Further, as more key information, including complete findings from the CLEAR Project evaluation, become available in 2016, the ECLT Foundation will continue to concretize plans to support partners and communities in combatting child labour in Malawi.
“The ECLT Foundation continues to be dedicated to helping eliminate child labour in tobacco-growing communities in Malawi through a new continuation phase, which will include projects, advocacy, and strengthening collaboration in 2016 and beyond,” confirmed Velazquez.
Field visit in Malawi
As part of the two-day roundtable, the village of Msanduliza in Malawi’s Ntchisi District prepared a day of celebration, welcoming visitors from the CLEAR Consortium, some who had been regularly working side by side with village residents and the ECLT Foundation staff, who came from as far away as Switzerland.
Empowering children and giving them a voice is at the center of the CLEAR Project, ECLT Foundation Executive Director Sonia Velazquez reminded attendees. Foundation staff had the chance to hear directly from some of the CLEAR Project beneficiaries, like Alex, a young man who returned to his family in Ntschi after years of working on a tobacco farm in Kosungo district, many hours away. Alex, at 16 years of age, was seeking a way to provide more money for himself, his mother, and his four siblings, and he found terrible working conditions, long hours, and low wages.
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.
This is just one of many success stories of the CLEAR Project. Since 2011, the CLEAR Project has reached more than 45,000 children and their families in tobacco-growing communities, through initiatives like better infrastructure and sanitation, counselling and support services, vocational and occupation safety trainings, and village savings and loans associations.