‘Poverty, disability go hand-in-hand’

Dr Christine Peta
In collaboration with Faith N Tori, I feature this week, an article which demonstrates the relationship between disability and poverty.

It is one of those typical Monday mornings in Hwange when the misery of those living with disability is evident in road pavements and street corners where they beg for alms. Shabbily dressed, their faces show little hope.

As people hurry by, very few notice a blind woman’s escort begging beside her. Clad in school uniform and helping her is 13-year-old-Diana Tsola (not real name).

On a good day, the pair gets US$5.

On the same stretch of the pavement is 10-year-old Nqobile Dube (not real name) who sits with his father who has a physical impairment.

Motorists have a quick choice to make: wind down the window and toss a coin; proffer a polite apology for not being able to help; or stonily ignore the beggars.

“I am the first in a family of three. Both parents are blind and I help them to beg, and my siblings at times help my mother in the begging quest. I am a form two student.

“When I have a morning session at school, I get in town in the afternoon after school to help my father to look for alms. It is difficult for both of us because we get food from begging,” says a brow-beaten Nqobile.

Her father, 42-year-old Nhlupheko Dube (not real name), feels cheated by nature as he narrates the tough task of putting food on the table.

“My wife begs with our other kids aged nine and five. It is unfortunate that they no longer go to school because we cannot afford. We strive to educate Nqobile, hoping she will look after her siblings.”

While other children of Diana and Nqobile’s age are at school or playing, these two have to worry about finding food.

The United Nations Children’s Fund defines child labour as work performed by children who are under the minimum age legally specified for that kind of work, or work which, because of its detrimental nature or conditions, is considered unacceptable for children and is prohibited.

This includes work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) examines the phenomenon of child labour thus: “Not all work done by children should be classified as child labour that is to be targeted for elimination.

“Children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling is generally regarded as being something positive.

“This includes activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays.

“These kinds of activities contribute to children’s development and to the welfare of their families; they provide them with skills and experience, and help to prepare them to be productive members of society during their adult life.”

The ILO 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 that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; work that interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.”

Whether or not particular forms of “work” can be called “child labour” depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is performed and the objectives pursued by individual countries.

Answers vary from country to country and within regions in countries.

It is evident that “work” that is performed by school-age group children who help their disabled parents to beg for alms in the streets, can be classified as “child labour”.

Children may be deliberately pulled out of school to assist their parents with begging, or they may still attend school but are left with no time to rest or to undertake their homework, as they are expected to dedicate their after school time to begging, thereby exposing the children to several social ills that are associated with street life.

Drawing from the ILO’s definition, such work may be mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to the children that are involved.

In any case, it evidently interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long hours of begging and ultimately being left with minimal time to study or to undertake homework, in instances where such children go to school.

Recent global estimates based on Unicef, ILO and World Bank data indicate that 268 million children aged 5 to 17 are engaged in child labour — and 230 million of them are below 14.

Besides being used by adults for activities like begging, millions of children have reportedly suffered in the other worst forms of child labour, including slavery and slavery-like practices such as forced and bonded labour.

Much research examines the issue of narrow educational and employment opportunities for persons with disability, in so far as such issues affect disabled persons themselves. But what about their children?

Some studies have indicated that disability is a cause of poverty because a person who has congenital disability or who acquires disability may struggle to get a job, or he or she may not be able to continue with schooling or any other form of skills development. Research has indicated that about half of all adults of working age who experience poverty for at least a full year are those who have some form of disability.

It is, therefore, evident that disability and poverty go hand-in-hand.

However, there is need to pay attention to the perpetuation of poverty among generations of families of persons with disability.

To what extent does disability cause poverty from one generation to the next within families that have persons with disability?

Researchers should examine the link between generational poverty and disability and to make recommendations for a disability policy and practice that safeguard not only persons with disability but the well-being of children of adults with disability.

 

Dr Christine Peta is a public healthcare practitioner who, among other qualifications, holds a PhD in Disability Studies. Be part of international debate on how best to nurture a society which is more accessible, supportive and inclusive of disabled people. Partner with Disability Centre for Africa (DCFA) on [email protected]

 

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