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child labor in tobacco child trafficking child protection policy
In the agricultural sector, tobacco has the biggest percentage of children involved in child labour in Malawi, far much more than tea, fishing, maize, etc. This scenario has necessitated the prioritization of interventions/programs in tobacco than any other sector so far.
Photo: Courtesy of MCTU
Child Trafficking is one of the worst forms of child labour prevalent in Malawi. CRIDOC Director George Kayange (left) and YONECO Director Mac Bain Mkandawire co-facilitating a media workshop held at Mount Soche Hotel, Blantyre, from 23 to 24 June 2008.
Photo: Courtesy of CRIDOC
There is need to mainstream child labour into relevant legislation & put in place robust child protection policies in Malawi. CRIDOC Director George Kayange (standing) at a UNICEF-sponsored consultative meeting to review the draft National Policy of Child Protection.
Photo: Courtesy of CRIDOC


We also Recommend these Relevant Links:
bullet Key Existing Policies Dealing with Child Labour & Education in Malawi
bullet International Partnerships for Cooperation on Child Labour In Malawi's Agriculture
bullet Call for the Tabling Of the Tobacco Tenancy Bill in Parliament
bullet Malawi CSOs Agree on Strategies against Trafficking During 2010 World Cup Soccer Tournament
According to the principles of International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 138 and ILO Convention 182, Child labour is any work done (apart from normal chores in their own family) by children under the age of 12, and full time work under the age of 14, and any hazardous work done below 18, in addition to the Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL) that must be prohibited for any one under the age of 18. Of course, many WFCL are also illegal and thus unacceptable for adults.

According to the Malawi's Employment Act of 2000, child labour refers to any economic activity that involves a child who is less than 14 years old. Child labour is work that harms children’ well being and hinders, among others, their education and development. It is generally work done by children under 18 years of age, which is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful.

Country Overview

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bullet1 Malawi CL National Action Plan 2009-16(PDF)
bullet1 Malawi Tea & Tobacco CL Report 2010 (PDF)
bullet1 Malawi Tobacco CL Survey Report 2009 (PDF)
bullet1 Kasungu-Mchinji CL Survey Report 2008 (PDF)  
bullet1 GMACL Position Paper on CL/Education (PDF)  
bullet1 GMACL Policy Note on CL & MDGs (PDF)  
Malawi, like most other Sub-Sahara African countries, continues to experience child labour in a number of sectors. At least 37 per cent of the children between 5 and 15 years of age were involved in child labour in 2002, according to the
National Survey Commissioned by ILO/IPEC. Of these, 53.5 per cent worked in agriculture and 42.1 per cent in the community and personal services sector. The rest were divided between other sectors including wholesaling, retailing, quarrying, mining, construction, manufacturing, street work and commercial sexual exploitation.

Malawi Demographic and Health Survey of 2004 confirmed the situation but the Multiple Cluster Indicator Survey of 2006 showed that the prevalence had actually dropped from 37 per cent to 29 per cent.

In 1999, the Government of Malawi ratified the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) and the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138). The Government continues to show some commitment to its goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016. The
Child Labour Policy and its attendant Cabinet paper were developed and vetted by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and await the approval of Parliament.

The Government of Malawi developed the
National Action Plan to Combat Child Labour (NAP-CL), adopted in May 2010 and launched on 18th October, 2010. ILO/IPEC Malawi played an instrumental role in the development and launching of the NAP. It is also supporting the government and stakeholders in the popularization and implementation of action plans. The development of the NAP began in 2006 through a consultative process involving a wide range of social partners and non-governmental and civil society organisations. Within the NAP, six priority areas have been identified as follows: (i) developing and improving the policy and legislative framework; (ii) building the capacity of the education sector; (iii) bridging the information gap on child labour; (iv) building the institutional and technical capacity of service providers; (v) providing services to withdrawn and prevented children to enable them to achieve their education objectives; and (vi) mitigating the effects of HIV and AIDS on working and at risk children.

The Ministry of Labour has developed the
Tobacco Tenancy Bill, vetted by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, to improve working conditions on estates. This means it is now compliant and consistent with the Malawian law and, subject to Cabinet approval, is ready to be tabled in Parliament.

The prevailing tenancy system is by design meant to force tenants to use their family members as free labour in order to meet high targets set by landlords. If enacted, the law will empower labour officers to conduct inspections of estates to check the working conditions of the tenants. The Labour officers are also called upon to enforce labour standards and thus play a supporting role in the elimination of child labour in agriculture.

Malawi is also a focal country for the International partnership for cooperation on child labour in agriculture, comprising ILO, FAO, IFAD, IFPRI/CGIAR, IUF, and agricultural producers' organisations (formerly IFAP). The Partnership is assisting labour and agriculture stakeholders, primarily the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, the Ministry of Labour, workers’, employers' organisations and agricultural producers’ organisations in Malawi to develop and implement an agricultural component of the NAP. The list of preliminary priority actions developed by national stakeholders in December 2010 includes promotion of improved coordination among all relevant actors to bridge the gap between agricultural and labour stakeholders, and reinforcement of the capacity of staff of key institutions so that they are able to better address child labour in agriculture. As a self-starter of the UN Delivering as One initiative, relevant UN agencies in Malawi are working together toward common goals, in recognition of the fact that converging efforts at the national level will ultimately result in better programme delivery at the community level.

Since 2002, the ECLT Foundation has been supporting the Integrated Child Labour Elimination Programme (ICLEP) in the tobacco growing districts of Dowa and Kasungu. The projects adopt an integrated approach, considering communities’ living conditions and developing activities such as access to quality education, safe water, basic health services and food security. Despite the successes of these projects in the communities where they have been implemented, nearly ten years later child labour persists in tobacco production in Malawi and many communities have not benefited from interventions to eliminate child labour.

Causes of Child Labour in Malawi

Several factors unrelated to education contribute to putting children at risk of entering child labour or to their involvement in it. The most significant ones are the following:

1. Persistent high poverty levels at household level
Poverty, in terms of basic income and food insecurity, has been identified as one of the main causes of child labour. This results in some parents engaging their children as child labourers as a means of ensuring additional income.

2. Household characteristics – household size
Households with large families and female-headed households are more likely to struggle to meet their needs. As a result, children will either work within the household to cut down costs or will be engaged by other households or in other forms of child labour to supplement family income. The overall household size in 2007 was 5.1, revealing a general increase from 4.3 in 1998.

3. The existence of a repressive tenancy system within the agricultural sector
Under the tobacco tenancy system, a tenant farmer agrees to grow tobacco on the land provided by his/her landlord. It seems that the tenancy system forces tenant farmers to engage their children in order for them to meet the terms of their labour contracts.

4. The prevalence of HIV
Malawi has a prevalence rate of 12 per cent (about seven per cent in rural areas and 23 per cent in urban areas in 2008) and is one of the countries worst hit by the epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa. This has led to a reduction in life expectancy from 44 years in the early 1990s to 38 years in 2008. In addition, HIV has claimed the lives of a large number of teachers, which has affected the quality of education. HIV has also worsened the plight of children because resources spent caring for the ailing family member at the household level diminish the resources available to spend on education.

5. Cultural and traditional beliefs and practices
According to the Malawi Human Rights Commission report on cultural practices , more girls than boys dropped out of school in many areas covered by the study. This was attributed to the preference by parents to send boys to school rather than girls (preferring girls over boys to do household chores), which constitutes discrimination and is contrary to Sections 20 and 23 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi.

6. Inadequate information on the effects of child labour among parents
The lack of awareness about the negative effects of child labour and ignorance about the type of work in which children are involved have been quoted as another main problem leading to child labour. Parents in some areas are said to willingly  or voluntarily allow their children to be taken away to work.

7. Lack of parental care, particularly the absence of positive male influence on the children and lack of role models
Consultations during the Strategic Programme Implementation Framework (SPIF) preparatory workshop revealed that many men are not providing parental direction for their children; and because
the laws have not legitimized child care, men who abandon their children do not face any penalty or consequence.

8. Weak or non-existent laws
A number of pieces of legislation still need to be endorsed by the Government. In the case of trafficking, for example, Malawi prohibits all forms of trafficking through existing laws, such as the Employment Act and the Penal Code (articles 135-147 and 257-269), but it lacks a specific anti-trafficking law. That results, at best, in a range of potentially weak penalties that can be imposed on convicted trafficking offenders.

Key Achievements

To date, Malawi has implemented two child labour programmes funded mainly by the United States Department of Labor. The most significant achievements have been as follows:
bullet The drafting of the National Action Plan and the list of hazardous tasks;
bullet The development within the Ministry of Labour of a database on child labour; 
bullet The development of successful models of intervention for prevention and withdrawal from child labour, and models for the support of adult caregivers, which are available for replication at a countrywide level.

Key Challenges

Some of the main challenges are as follows:
bullet Information on the incidence of child labour countrywide remains scarce despite the programmes having conducted rapid assessments and other studies;
bullet Efforts to institutionalize the interventions on child labour to ensure effective coordination at national level require further attention; and 
bullet The strategies that have been to eliminate child labour have been sector-based and have not effectively dealt with children who have been shifting from targeted sectors to non-targeted sectors.

Key Recommendation

There is need to mainstream child labour into other relevant legislation and put in place (or strengthen) child protection policies in Malawi.


1. ECLT Conference project document, 2012
2. Welfare Monitoring Survey (WMS), 2007.
3. June 2009, www.sdnp.org.mw/min-information/economy.htm
4. Malawi National Plan of Action 2009-2016.
5. Prohibition of hazardous work for children, Employment Order, 2011
6. Ministry of Gender, Children and Community Development: Children in Need of Special Protection - Household Survey Report. 7. Alexander Phiri, November 2007, p. 6.
8. Malawi Draft Decent Work Country Programme 2009, p. 12.
9. Malawi Development Report 2005 – Reversing HIV and AIDS in Malawi, p. 31.
10. Malawi Human Rights Report on Cultural Practices and their Impact on the Enjoyment of Human Rights, Particularly the  
      Rights of Women and Children in Malawi, p. 84. 

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