Under-age children turn to vending as the economy screams

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… play cat and mouse with army and police during lockdown

By Perseverance Javangwe

Going through the streets of Kwekwe during the coronavirus lockdown children as young as nine years are roaming the streets selling freezits, maputi, mutsvairo (brooms) moving from car to car and getting into shops, in order to raise money for schools fees, clothing and food also.

“Mutsvairo Dollar for two only! Mutsvairo Dollar for two only!” shouts a child who was selling his brooms walking along Nelson Mandela Way, despite the country being under a 30days lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus which has witnessed a surge in deaths recently.

The economic situation in the country is now forcing children to become family bearers. A boy who spoke with this reporter narrated his ordeal.

“Ndikatengesa mitsvairo yangu iyi mari yandinenge ndawana ndiyo yatinozoshandisa kubhadhara school fees, saka ndirikutozama kuti itengwe kuitira kuti ndisazodzingwa kuchikoro. Mhamha varikutengesawo mabanana nemuriwo kumusika ini ndichitengesawo kuno. Baba vangu vakashaya saka tinorarama nekutengesa. Ndikatengesa ndiko kuti ndigokwanisawo kutenga mauniform ekuchikoro nekuti yandinayo ikozvino yakatodambuka haichasoneki (I have to make sure I sell these brooms so that I can raise funds to pay for my school fees and also for buying uniform. My father passed away, and since then I support my mother in vending so that we can sustain ourselves),” lamented a child whose name cannot be published for ethical reasons.

Another girl, name withheld, told this reporter that she stopped going to school because her parents could not afford to pay their school fees together with her older brother.

“My brother is the one going to school at the moment. I stopped because my parents could not afford to pay school fees for the two of us. So my parents said when my brother finish his grade seven this year, I will then continue next year and my brother will have to wait for a while also before he can proceed to form one,” she said.

Morgan Heritage in the song titled, ‘Ends nah meet’ sang, “How can things be getting better when so much people still a suffer, Dem seh things a get better but we can’t see it, cyaa sleep a night because wi stress out, every month landlord talk about kick out because ends naw meet, people a end up pon street.

True to these words the economic situation in the country has forced children to vending on the streets so that they help their families raise money to pay rentals, school fees, food, but still as Morgan Heritage correctly puts it ‘Ends nah meet’. This is because the profit that they get is insufficient to cater for the demands of life in Zimbabweans. This is despite several claims by the Government that there is no crisis in the country.

According to an assessment carried out by the Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (VISET), over 20 000 children have been forced to turn to illegal vending to supplement family incomes as the country’s economic situation continues to worsen.

With the unemployment figures reportedly over 80%, many people have turned to the informal trading for survival. VISET director Samuel Wadzai whose institution is representing over 68 000 informal traders and at least 30% of the total figure are children under age was quoted in the local paper as having said that the number of children vending on the streets has increased.

“We are witnessing the spike of children turning to vending since the commencement of the Covid-19 induced lockdown. Our preliminary findings suggest that there has been an increase of no less than 30% of children who have ventured into informal trading since the beginning of lockdown.”

He attributed the rise in poverty levels in the country to the upsurge of child vendors adding the situation has been exacerbated by the government not putting in place safety nets to cushion vulnerable groups forcing children to eke out a living from roaming the streets vending.

“We believe the poverty levels have risen since the government is not supporting the vulnerable in our society despite enforcing the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. These children are going out to support the incomes of their families. The government must support vulnerable families and immediately put in place cushioning fund and ensure that it gets to the most deserving people,” he said, as quoted in the local paper.

The current harsh economic situation has not spared children and it is sad to note that as a country we are lagging behind in the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals. There is need to act on SDG number one and “…build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situation by 2030.”

According to the Child Resource Institute of Zimbabwe, in October last year 188 356 child vendors were operating in towns, cities and rural areas. This is a form of Child Labor which is happening at a time the country is a signatory to a number of conventions that protects children from abuse including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is a human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. The convention defines a child as any human being under the age of 18.

Zimbabwe’s Labor Act prohibits employers from hiring a person under 18 to perform hazardous work, while the Children’s Act makes it an offense to exploit children through employment.

But whether or not the law allows children to work as vendors it does not matter for these children because from their perspective it is the only way that can bring food to the table and make them go to school and prepare for a better future.

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