Malawi President call for end to child labour in tobacco indutsry

Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika on Monday called for an immediate end to the country’s child labour, particularly in the tobacco industry.

President Mutharika was speaking in Lilongwe when he officially opened the 2012 tobacco marketing season at the Kanengo Auction Floors.

He said children were supposed to be going to schools so that they get education and help in the development of the country and not working in tobacco fields.

Mutharika described child labour as a form of contemporary slavery which he said his government will not condone.

Child tobacco pickers in Malawi are being regularly exposed to extremely high levels of nicotine poisoning. Photo credit: Plan

“I want child labour in the tobacco industry and other industries in Malawi to stop right away,” said Mutharika.

“The children belong to school and not in tobacco estates,” he said.

Malawian tobacco is found in the blend of almost every cigarette smoked in the west.

Mutharika also bemoaned the tendency by some estates’ owners who transport children from one district to the other where they are subjected to slavery.

He mentioned Thyolo and Phalombe as examples of some districts where most estate owners from other districts such as Kasungu and Nkhotakota get children to work in their fields.

According to the international children’s organisation Plan, Malawian children forced to work as tobacco pickers are exposed to nicotine poisoning equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day.

Child labourers as young as five are suffering severe health problems from a daily skin absorption of up to 54 milligrams of dissolved nicotine, Plan’s survey said.

Statistics indicate that Malawi has the highest incidence of child labour in southern Africa primarily due to the tobacco industry.

Malawi produces about 6.6 percent of world burley tobacco exports, accounting for over 60 percent of the country’s foreign earnings.

Close to 80 000 Malawian children are reported to be working on a full or part time basis in tobacco estates where 45 per cent of the child workers are said to be aged between 10 and 14 years old while 55 percent are 7to 9 years old.

Most of these estate owners are left scot free despite the fact that the country’s Employment Act of 2000 sets the minimum age of employment at 14 years.

According to TCC’s estimates, Malawi is this year expected to produce about 151 million kilogrammes down from 237million kgs attained in the year 2011, representing a 36 percent drop. Burley alone is estimated at134million kgs which is 52 million kilos lower than that of last year.

This year, most farmers expect good prices as compared to last year where auction floors had to be suspended several times due to disagreements between growers and buyers over the prices that were being offered.

The development forced a number of farmers to switch to other selling crops after being dissatisfied with the prices which has resulted in a significant fall in supply of the leaf.

However, the 2012 official opening was swallowed up by protests from the growers who were against the low prices buyers were offering.

Security officers had to chase some growers out of the auction floors to avoid embarrassing the president.

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