LILONGWE, MALAWI —
Schoolchildren as young as seven years old protested in Malawi's capital Wednesday, urging the government to address the concerns of their teachers, who have been on a nationwide strike since Monday.
The children, from schools around the city, were protesting on their own, without being accompanied by police.
Clad in school uniforms, the students blocked roads, causing traffic jams as they chanted songs calling on the government to meet the teachers' grievances.
Students protest in support of teachers, who have been on strike since Monday, in Lilongwe, Malawi, Sept. 14, 2016. (L. Masina/VOA)
Police intervened and dispersed the young protesters before they reached the district education office, where they wanted to present a petition.
"We are fighting for our freedom and education,” said one student, who did not want to be named. “It is not right and fair for someone to get educated and become a teacher and not receive his or her money."
The teachers are pushing the government to pay back salaries owed to those who were promoted in 2013, and for the promotion of other teachers deserving of advancement.
Teachers Union of Malawi Secretary General Denis Kalekeni says the union has received assurance from the government that it will meet all the teachers' demands by the end of the year.
Protesting students march in the street in support of teachers on strike in Lilongwe, Malawi, Sept. 14, 2016. (L. Masina/VOA)
He asked teachers to resume work and "give government the benefit of the doubt."
However, he added a warning: "[If] government plays dilly dallying, and thinks that the suspension of the strike can give them the audacity to fail to implement [teachers' demands], the Teachers Union of Malawi shall have no choice but to revive the strike."
Kalekeni also stressed a timeline for the union’s demands.
"We need to see that in the month end of September, teachers have been uploaded on the payroll for their arrears,” he said. “We want to see that by October, teachers have been [upgraded]."
Education Ministry spokesperson Manfred Ndovi said officials are committed to meeting the teachers' demands by November.