The Centre for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD) has asked government through the Ministry of Labour to investigate the extent to which children are being engaged in the production of tobacco in the country.

CTPD executive director Isaac Mwaipopo revealed in a statement, Thursday, that in a survey recently conducted by his organisation on the tobacco sector in Zambia, evidence indicated that a number of children were being used for cheap labour in the cultivation of the tobacco substance.

“A survey of 220 tobacco farmers from Central, Eastern, Southern and Western Provinces revealed that 45.4% of the farmers use household labour to produce tobacco. Given that 68.6% of the households had members between the ages of four and 10 people, Zambia is at risk of exposing children to green tobacco. According to The World Health Organization, about 1.3 million children aged below 14 years were working in tobacco fields in 2011 and, according to the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO), the numbers are rising with a shift in tobacco growing from the developed to the developing countries,” Mwaipopo stated.

Mwaipopo regretted that the exposure of children to tobacco cultivation was a serious health risk which was making children less productive and needed to be addressed.

“CTPD is alive to the fact that the tobacco sector, just like most of the agricultural sector is informal and thus household labour use is expected. Nonetheless, there are a number of reasons why the use of child labour in the tobacco sector is cause for great alarm. Firstly, tobacco is a harmful product and thus its categorisation as a controlled substance in many countries including Zambia. The exposure of children to tobacco is therefore a serious health risk. Secondly, the tobacco survey also indicates that more than 50% of the tobacco farmers do not use protective clothing in farming tobacco. This means the use of children in growing and handling tobacco under such conditions would elevate the health risks. Thirdly, According to WHO, child labour reduces the education prospects of children. Parents would find it less economical to educate their children if they are considered to be cheap labour in the household’s production activities,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Mwaipopo called on government’s intervention in this matter.

“Zambia’s labour laws stipulate that ‘A child between 13 and 15 years may be engaged in light work which is not likely to harm that child’s health or development; or which is not prejudicial to that child’s attendance at an institution of learning or participation in vocational orientation. Therefore, engaging children in growing tobacco is in violation of the Employment Act and The Employment of Young Persons and Children Act, both due to health risks and reduced educational prospects. CTPD therefore urges the government of the republic of Zambia through the ministry of Labour to further investigate the extent to which children are engaged in the production of tobacco in Zambia. Although the profitability analysis of the study revealed that Zambia’s tobacco sector contributes significantly to government revenue and generates employment, such benefits should weighed against these and other risks. Zambia needs to implement strategic legislation aimed at safeguarding the lives of children while also recognizing the economic, trade and revenue benefits of the tobacco sector,” stated Mwaipopo.