From the tender age of 14, Alexio Katongomara, of Charara in Kariba, was destined to become a career fisherman. Now an adult, Katongomarara has not known any other source of livelihood other than fishing.
“Circumstances forced us to take fishing as a career. We were born to become fishermen. I grew up in a set-up in which most boys were destined to take fishing as a career,” Katongomara said.
As a boy, he helped his father cast nets into the mighty and treacherous Zambezi River. He would also help sort and load the catch into buckets before helping his father repair the nets. After resting for a few hours, he would then join his mother and sister in processing and selling the fish at the local market.
“I used some of the money that I got from fishing to pay for my school fees. After Grade Seven, I dropped out of school and became a full-time fisherman,” narrated Katongomara.
Child labour is rampant in the local fishing industry, with children often seen scouring for fish in the country’s major rivers.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), about 60 per cent of all children engaged in child labour are active in the agriculture sector, including fisheries and aquaculture.
FAO defines child labour as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.
It refers to work which interferes with the children’s education and is detriment to their moral and social development. Zimbabwean law prohibits any form of employment for children under the age of 13.
However, those between 13 and 15 years can work only as supervised apprentices. Those aged between 16 and 18 may be employed commercially, provided they are supervised. Child labour remains a problem in Zimbabwe, with statistics from child labour surveys indicating that about 10 percent of children in the five to fourteen age group are engaged in economic activities.
Across the country, children risk drowning, contracting water-borne diseases or attacks by wild animals as they help their parents to fish in many of the water bodies dotted around the country.
Children working in fisheries often carry heavy loads and work in extreme temperatures. Child labour affects the physical, mental and emotional well-being of the victims.
A recent visit to Kariba revealed that although commercial fisheries do not employ children, they come in to help their parents using smaller boats and canoes on the Zambezi River.
“What do we need children for? We have lots of unemployed men who are pestering us for jobs. Besides, our line of work requires, not only ordinary men, but very fit ones,” said Mr Edward Seremwe, a local fisherman.
Labour law experts argue that although the law is clear on child labour, there is a lack of policing. The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) emphasises on the need for the implementation of the policies.
“In addition to good legislation, we need good enforcement of that legislation. More importantly, policy choices and accompanying investments that are certain to have an impact on addressing child labour are in the areas of education and social protection,” a blog on the organisation’s website reads.
The International Labour Organisation considers fishing as a potentially hazardous occupation. Apart from being physically demanding, fishermen work for long hours in dangerous conditions.
According to the ILO, there is little distinction between work and personal time for children who work on off-shore fishing and processing sites.
The organisation states that the children often live in squalid conditions, without proper facilities. However, there is no global data on the prevalence and concentration of child labour in fishing and aquaculture.
Online sources indicates that child labour in the fishing sector is most common in informal and small-scale fishing operations and in post-harvest fish processing, distribution and marketing.
The sources further indicate that small-scale fisheries provide over 90 percent of the 120 million livelihoods derived directly and indirectly from fisheries.
More than 500 million people, about eight percent of the world population, earn a living from fishing.
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