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Illegal brick moulders exploit children

By Tinashe Mungazi 

Child rights activists have raised a red flag over the increase in child labour and women exploitation at the illegal brick moulding sites in Hwange.

Over 1000 people are reportedly engaged in the illegal trade with children aged between 8 and 16 years providing hard labour.

The illegal brick moulding activities have caused serious land degradation forcing the Hwange Local Board (HLB) to order the illegal brick moulders to regularise their activities or face eviction. 

The Covid-19 imposed national lockdown forced many people out of their jobs and some have resorted to brick moulding to earn a living.

When CITE visited one such site in Empumalanga before it was demolished by the council children could be observed loading bricks into a truck in a last minute scramble to savage the bricks.

One 12-year-old grade 7 pupil at a local school said they were paid US$1 for piling together 1000 bricks. 

“I live with my mother who is a vendor and since the lockdown, she has not been able to do her business which has affected us. We would at times survive on one meal per day, so I decided to join the other children here to work on moulding or piling the bricks in an orderly manner. The men who employ us pay US$1 per 1000 bricks and if you load a haulage truck you get US$3. Though it’s hard work it has brought relief at home,” she said.

Director of Hopeville Zimbabwe, a child rights organisation based in Hwange, Ruth Bikwa said the practice was depriving children of their right to social protection from exploitation. 

“The increase in child labour is a cause for concern as it is a form of exploitation and human rights abuse. Such instances should not be allowed to continue. It’s a clear sign of seeking cheap labour when you employ a 11-year-old who is still at school and pay them a dollar. These children are supposed to be studying given that schools will be opening soon. We have heard of reports that some girls are also come to pile bricks in the bushy sites which further exposes them to sexual abuse at the hands of their handlers, ” said Bikwa. 

She said some parents were complicit by seconding their children to work at the sites.  

“There are struggles of providing and protection in that parents who are into brick moulding don’t leave their children at home of fear abuse, which is the protection aspect. As for the parents they cannot stop going to the brick moulding activity since it’s their livelihood and they have to provide for their families. They have to make sure there is food on the table and that the children go to school.

My advice as a child activist is that when there are that side they should go with their books to study however what I’m not comfortable with is seen them moulding bricks. They are young and should not be used for such but it should be minimal as part of chores you do at home. We appreciate and understand the situation is bad but these children must not be turned in key brick moulders. “

An investigation by this publication revealed that the exploitation of children was not only limited to moulding bricks but the practice was rife in the collection of quarry and coke at disused coal mines. A 50kg sack of coke is fetching US$3 while that of quarry is US$1.50.

Greater Hwange Residents Trust coordinator, Fidelis Chima said the increase in child labour at the illegal brick moulding sites were worrisome as it exposed them to various dangers since they were no adherence to Covid-19 regulations 

“The unregulated brick moulding has seen the rise of child labour. The most unfortunate part is that children work without any safety measures, no protective clothing and for a meagre payment. There are no toilets and this exposes a girl child to possible abuse, ” said Chima. 

Council recently started destroying the sites as it moved towards addressing the land degradation through rehabilitation. This was after the local authority was issued with an order by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to rehabilitate the damaged land and put a halt to sand poaching.

“Hwange Local Board would like to advise members of the public that it will be carrying out a land rehabilitation exercise in the bushy areas of Empumalanga and Don Bosco on or before Friday (25/09/20). The aforesaid areas have over the years suffered massive land degradation due to rampant illegal clay soil extraction activities. Apart from causing severe environmental destruction, the clay soil poaching activities are taking place in areas designated for residential stands and various infrastructural developments.

The local authority was issued with an order by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) to rehabilitate the concerned areas not later than 25 September or risk being heavily fined. In a show of empathy and humanity, HLB is hereby appealing to all those involved in clay poaching and illegal brick moulding to cease their operations forthwith to pave way for the exercise, ” said HLB in a statement. 

It added that the rehabilitation exercise was part of Government’s recently launched “thunder ball” operation aimed at protecting the country’s wildlife and environment and had so far netted 26 people for illegal clay soil extraction, two for sand poaching, one for production of charcoal and three for animal poaching.

The operation is being spearheaded by security services with other members drawn from Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, Department of Immigration, Forestry Commission, Hwange Colliery Company Limited and Hwange Rural District Council. 

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