In Malawi, the government is carrying out a campaign to
register the births of children under 18 years of age.The United Nations Children Fund is leading
the effort, which is aimed in part at curbing child labor and trafficking.Nine of the country’s 28 districts are now
implementing the exercise.VOA’s
Lameck Masina reports from Blantyre.
Statistics indicate that about 30 percent of children
under 17 are vulnerable to labor exploitation and child trafficking. Young
people in that age group are estimated to make up half of the country’s
population. The 2007 US State Department report published in
June titled Trafficking in Persons, says the children are mainly used as cheap
labor on farms and for small businesses.
As for trafficking, the report says fraudulent job offers lure children into forced labor and commercial sexual
Peter Chitedze is the Director of the National
Registration Bureau. He says registering children will allow the government to
verify their identities and their age.
“The good thing about this system," he says, "is that once a
child is registered at birth, the challenges will be managed professionally.
The beneficiaries will be the holders of the document and it’s the document
that one cannot afford to do without. Chances of forgery with people using
other people’s documents will be very, very, very minimal.”
Malawi does not have comprehensive laws on child protection.
The country is still using the Birth and Deaths Act of 1904, which does
not require births – or deaths – to be officially recorded.
Until now, it has been up to the parent or guardian to
travel to Malawi's commercial capital, Blantyre, to register the birth of a
child. They also have to pay the
administrative costs of issuing a birth certificate. With high levels of
poverty, most Malawians can not afford to travel to the registration offices,
or pay for the birth certificates.
In Malawi, more than three-quarters
of the country’s 12 million people live on less than a US $1 a day.
But some efforts are being made towards protecting children.
In 2005, the government, with funding from UNICEF, trained a
group of 400 child protection officers. They were deployed as frontline
officers to all 193 constituencies represented in the national assembly. The officers were trained to report any
suspected cases of trafficking in their respective districts.
Two years ago, the cabinet approved the Child Care,
Protection and Justice Bill, which defines child trafficking and sets a penalty
of life imprisonment for convicted traffickers. The bill is yet to be tabled in
Maxwell Matewere is executive director of Eye of the Child,
an NGO whose activities are directed by the provisions of the UN Convention on
the Rights of a Child. He says the issue of birth legislation was long overdue
and will help the organization in its effort to tackle child exploitation.“The government was supposed to introduce this sometime back
as a constitutional right to the children. We have been facing lots of problems
because we have been failing to identify some of the children.
He sayss, "Even if we wanted to introduce some
intervention to campaign against child labor, child trafficking sexual abuse,
we [do not have] actual data and statistics regarding the number of children in
that particular area.”
But critics say until the Bill is ratified, children
remain at risk.
Malawi is a signatory to numerous international
agreements to protect children. They
include the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and International
Labor Organization conventions that set a minimum working age of 18, and that
outlaw child labor.