Review of Earning a Life: Working Children in Zimbabwe - Institute of Development Studies

Earning a life: working children in Zimbabwe
edited by Michael Bourdillon

2001: (pp: 220) 210 x 145 mm
ISBN: 079742162

Institute of Development Studies (

What problems do working children in Zimbabwe experience? How can they best be heard and supported?

A new book draws attention to the plight of working children and suggests ways forward, while acknowledging that children's earning are essential to the livelihoods of many marginalised families. Rather than focusing on children's work as a problem, the book argues that work is usually a solution to greater problems and that, in most cases, stopping children from working would worsen their situation. Work in itself is not problematic, but rather the manner in which some children are treated when working.

Some forms of work are exploitative or dangerous. In Zimbabwe, children work in both formal and informal employment, as street vendors, prostitutes and domestic workers, and in commercial farming, mines and tea and coffee estates. While children's formal employment receives much attention and criticism, informal employment often involves longer hours and lower pay, and is sometimes concealed as work for the family under fictitious kinship ties.

Children work in a variety of contexts outside normal formal and legal structures, and these informal, sometimes hidden forms of employment are difficult to monitor or control in terms of type of work, hours and remuneration. In addition, many children do unpaid work for their families, for example, agricultural or caring work. Such work is not easily controlled and some children may be exploited and receive insufficient attention to their health and education.

Earning a Life considers immediate concerns about working children, and makes recommendations for longer-term policies. Immediate concerns include instances of violence against children, the harassment and abuse of street children, and the lack of structures to protect young domestic workers.

Research findings include:

Many Zimbabwean children do need to work, and adults should be encouraged to supply the necessary employment, and to ensure that children receive the necessary support and protection

Both practical plans of action and reflection on attitudes towards working children are needed

A child-centred approach is needed: adults must take children's views seriously concerning their reasons for working, the problems solved by working, the areas in which they feel abused or neglected, and the areas where they feel change is needed

Appropriate forums are needed where children can air their experiences and opinions. Ways forward were discussed at a workshop on working children in Zimbabwe held in Harare in 2000.

Although legislation alone will not resolve working children's problems, it can support other programmes. Existing laws protecting working children must be better publicised and their implementation monitored

Codes of conduct are needed for both formal and informal employment and unpaid work

Children need support services, for example, counselling services, education, skills training and health services

Community structures, for example, church groups, can be used to uncover and monitor hidden forms of child labour and to support children

Adults in all communities must be made aware of their responsibilities towards all children in their community

Publicity campaigns must raise awareness of children's rights and of issues concerning working children, and emphasise the need to involve children in finding solutions.

© The author/publisher