Too tired for school

Too tired for school

Date: July 6, 2012
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When she was orphaned at 7 years, Margarida Tomas* quickly changed roles from a child into a “woman.'” Following the death of her parents, she went to live with her aunt in the Mozambican capital Maputo. Her aunt Anita convinced the girl’s other relatives that she would take care for her and send her to school, as no one in their rural home 700 kilometres north of Maputo had the capacity.

A year after moving to Maputo, Tomas replaced her aunt’s domestic helper. Her aunt requires her to wake up as early as 4 am and do house chores, for example, washing dishes, cleaning the house, ironing clothes for her aunt and her husband. At 7am on weekdays, she leaves home for school. She has never liked school, stating that she is always tired in class and cannot concentrate.

More chores were added as Tomas grew older. Now 12 years old, her physical structure is that of a much younger girl. From the gated house where she has lived for the past five years, her contact with friends is only at school. She is not allowed to play with children of her age or invite friends home.

Margarida’s situation is not unique in Southern Africa, where young girls and boys often end up living with relatives after the death of parents, or when relatives bring them to towns and cities with promises of a better education. With hard economic times in most urban areas, residents who cannot afford domestic help sometimes take advantage of the young people under their care, arguing that they are teaching them skills they would use in future.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the eastern and southern Africa region has the highest proportion of children involved in child labour in the world – 36% of all children between the ages of five and 14. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines child labour as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity.” The organisation also terms child labour as work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling.

Domestic work is the leading employment for girls under the age of 16. In some cases this may be paid work, but in many, as with Margarida Tomas, domestic labour is unpaid. This situation is only worsening high prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS, which require more care work within families.

Article 14 on Gender Equality in Education is a cornerstone provision in the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, covering equal access to all levels of education, challenging gender stereotypes in education, and also ensuring that institutions of learning are free from gender violence. According to the SADC Gender Protocol Barometer, an annual progress measurement tool produced by Gender Links, primary education continues to be Southern Africa (and Africa’s) greatest success story. In most SADC countries, there are now roughly equal numbers of boys and girls at primary schools.

Yet, this same report notes lower literacy levels for women in all SADC countries except Seychelles. In some cases, the gap is very worrying, for example in Mozambique, only 33% of women are literate compared to 57% of men. Likewise, DRC, Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi, and Madagascar all have significant gender literacy gaps.

Perhaps like the case of Margarida Tomas, the question is not only whether girls are in school, but the quality of education received, an important point also noted in the SADC Protocol. If girls are often absent because of household responsibilities, are unable to complete homework because of domestic chores, or are simply too tired to learn, their schooling suffers.

As the 2010 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer notes, education is the foundation of future employment prospects and opportunities. Education offers the chance to make more of the resources available, whether that is within salaried employment, starting a business, increasing the productivity of land, selling excess
produce, or managing the household budget. Not only is economic justice a from of gender justices in itself, by economic independence is also a key factor in being able to walk away form dangerous and abusive situations.

In order to eliminate the worrying trend of girl child domestic labour, SADC countries must enforce binding laws that will ‘kick off’ all forms of child oppression. There is a need to ensure not only that girls enrol and stay in school, but that they have the needed resources, include, time, to be able to perform to their fullest abilities.

At the time of the year when people reflect on the 16 Days of Activism against gender violence it is also pertinent to reflect on the consequences of child labour, which is not only psychologically bad for children but will affect the way they will grow up.

Fred Katerere is a journalist in Mozambique. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service series for the 16 Days of Activism.



0 thoughts on “Too tired for school”

Jackson Mwalundange says:

Margarida’s is just an example of a common problem. Women, generally, have been known to have no mercy for children other than their own. They turn them into slaves. This is irrespective whether the children are orphans or not. (It’s just worse for orphans, and also for stepchildren especially if her husband is weak, and usually he is.)We need to address this!

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