Another worst form of child labour has been brought to light around Lake Chilwa area in Malawi’s former capital, Zomba with 23 cases already reported so far.
The new trend involves employing young boys to work as ‘bila boys’ for fishermen around the lake.
According to people privy to the system, ‘bila boys’ are deep water divers who firmly hold fishing nets to avoid the captured fish fleeing.
These bila boys stay under the water between 30 minutes and one hour holding the fishing net.
And in a shocking revelation, a fresh case involves a senior traditional leader who trafficked and employed two youths to work as bila boys for him on Lake Chilwa.
The child abuser has been identified as Group Village Headman Chaweza from T/A Mposa in Machinga district who employed 13-year-old Steven Majiga and Chiyembekezo Asidi, 15, both from Komiha Village, T/A Mwambo in Zomba district.
The boys reportedly went missing after being trafficked from their village by GVH Chaweza.
Their parents were alerted by neighbours who saw the boys heading towards Mposa Village in the company of the man they did not recognize then.
But three weeks into the wilderness, the children thought of returning home after getting tired of doing the hard work just to enrich their master.
The bone of contention was the unpaid wages which forced them to put forward to the boss their intentions to quit.
It all started after one boy fell sick and his friend asked the GVH for payment so that they could go home to seek medical help.
In anger, the GVH took the children on the boat as if he was taking them to their normal duties on the lake only to dump them in middle of the water body, according to officials at Youth Net and Counseling (YONECO).
After being abandoned on the lake, the two helpless children struggled to find their way out to the shores as water reached their neck level.
However, they were rescued by two brothers, Jailosi and Ngwinji, who were resting in their floating shelter on the lake.
The two were surprised to see just heads of the two children moving at a distance in the waters and quickly rushed to see what was going on.
Jailosi told Nyasa Times: “After I saw them walking helplessly in the water we took our canoe and followed them. We found them exhausted and confused.”
The Good Samaritans then picked the boys on the canoe to Mposa Harbour where they provided them with food and cash amounting to K500 before being sent to YONECO Offices at Mposa for further assistance.
YONECO Centre Coordinator for Mposa Area, Christopher Waile told Nyasa Times the children’s sins were to remind the GVH of their dues as per their agreement of getting paid per work done.
It was at YONECO where they reunited with their father who came to identify them. He was away when they disappeared from home.
The father, James Asidi, said he was devastated to learn that his children were employed as bila boys because the job demands for experts in swimming.
Asidi said after his children went missing he went into prayers hoping that one day he would see them again.
The dejected father also said he was surprised when he heard that his children were rescued from the waters of Lake Chilwa.
“All I want is government and relevant organizations to do something because my children are too young to be employed as bila boys,” said Asidi, whose wife has been bed-ridden for three years now.
“How can someone just invade my home and whisk my children away without my knowledge. To make matters worse employ them at 13 and 15 years of age? Let the law take its course,” he prayed.
Since the fishing season officially opened on the lake on 1st March 2013, YONECO has received 23 cases of similar child labour.
Charles Banda, Media Networking and Advocacy Officer for YONECO, said they were saddened and shocked to learn the injustices of the two children.
He said his organization would take to task the GVH by engaging the police to arrest him so that the law takes its course.
“This is sad that a local leader in a senior position of Group Village Headman is in the forefront of abusing children,” said Banda.
The Malawi Constitution on section 12 (6) stipulates that no one is above the law.
Banda also said YONECO is intensifying its awareness campaigns through theatre to sensitize the community around the lake against child labour.
Democracy Consolidation Programme (DCP) is funding YONECO under Human Rights Programme in Machinga district to protect children from abuse around Lake Chilwa.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :