Zimbabwe urged to take action against child labour on tobacco farms

6 April 2018:

Human Rights Watch says children as young as 11 are working on farms and face exposure to toxic chemicals

The global watchdog Human Rights Watch has urged Zimbabwe to take urgent steps to stem child labour and other rights abuses on the country’s tobacco farms.

In a report titled “Bitter Harvest”, the HRW revealed on Friday that children as young as 11 were working on tobacco farms, often in hazardous conditions, to earn school fees or supplement the family income.

Workers were exposed to nicotine and toxic pesticides and suffer symptoms consistent with poisoning such as nausea and vomiting, it said.

“Zimbabwe’s government needs to take urgent steps to protect tobacco workers,” said Margaret Wurth, co-author of the Human Rights Watch report.

Of the 125 people interviewed, one 12-year-old girl described how she fell ill after handling an unnamed pesticide. “We carry the knapsack and start to spray,” the girl, named Mercy, is quoted as saying. “I feel like vomiting because the chemical smells very bad.”

A schoolteacher said his pupils sometimes missed class as they went to work on the tobacco farms. “From the onset of the tobacco growing season, these children start being absent,” said the teacher, named only as Joseph, from the northern Mashonaland West province. “You find out of 63 days of the term, a child is coming 15 to 24 days only,” he said.

Seasonal workers on some large-scale farms said they were pushed to work excessive hours without overtime and forced to go weeks or months without pay.

Tobacco is the largest foreign currency earner after gold. Last year the country realised $900m from tobacco exports, mainly to China and Indonesia, according to the tobacco industry’s marketing board.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took charge after the long-time ruler Robert Mugabe was forced to step down, has pledged to prioritise agriculture as he looks to revive Zimbabwe’s moribund economy.

Source: The Guardian