Don't grow up too fast
LILONGWE, 16 June 2009 (IRIN) - Caroline Mbewe, 14,
would prefer to be in school, but instead is a domestic worker for an affluent
family in Malawi's capital, Lilongwe.
"My bosses treat me well but I don't want to continue working. I want to be like their daughters; I want to go to school," she told IRIN.
As in the rest of the developing world, poor families in Malawi are often forced to send their children out to earn a wage rather than complete their education.
"[My parents] said it was not easy for them to care for me and my three siblings, who are still with my parents at home," Caroline explained.
"[They] told me that my friends were making a lot of money in Lilongwe by working for rich families."
Malawi's initial report to the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child - a universally agreed set of standards and obligations on child protection - noted that approximately 20 percent of all children under the age of 15 were in full-time employment, and a further 21 percent worked part-time. Two decades later the statistics are much the same.
Primary education is free in Malawi, but secondary education - roughly from the age of 14 - is not, and where families have to choose between educating a boy child or a girl, it is usually the boy who will stay in class.
Girls not only take on unpaid household chores like childcare, cooking and cleaning, but are more likely to be expected to bring in a wage.
Elias Ngongondo, secretary for labour in Malawi's Ministry of Labour, last week pointed out that this "double burden" imposed on many girl children robbed them of the opportunity to "develop to their full potential".
The UN Millennium Development Goals have set a target of ensuring that by 2015 all boys and girls complete full primary school and that there is gender parity in education.
"These targets will not be met unless the factors that generate child labour and prevent poor families from sending children to school are addressed," Ngongondo said.
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