The kids eking a living on the streets

The kids eking a living on the streets

MASERU – THABANG Mohapi, was just 12-years-old when he dropped out of school five years ago and he has no intention of going back.
Born and raised in Ha-Foso, about 10 kilometres north of the capital, Maseru, the 17-year-old grew up in a family where “parents constantly fought over minor things”.
In the meantime, the family was suffering because the parents would not provide for the children due to their incessant fighting.
He has been the family breadwinner since 2014 when he had to look after his only sister.

At the time, he was only in Grade 5, albeit much older to be in that lower class.
“I had to leave school because my parents were unstable. They constantly fought and that led to their separation,” Mohapi says.
He says dropping out was not easy, especially as he had to watch as his peers proceeded with their education.
“I had to make peace with it and I started accepting,” he says.

Mohapi is now surviving on selling fruits and vegetables, sweets, door mats and brooms in Maseru.
His usual trading hours are between 6am and 7pm.
He says his father was the founder of the business and his mother used to be the sales person, but “the minute things got out of control, I had to take over”.
Mohapi says considering the time he has already spent selling in the street, he does not even think of going back to school.

“Five years is not child’s play and it is going to be difficult for me to go back to repeat the same class with children much younger than me,” he said.
He was already older than most of his classmates in 2014 when he quit school.
“It is pointless as I have lost a lot of time and interest,’’ he says, adding that he is happy with his business.
‘‘I now have loyal customers,’’ he says.

He says he makes between M200 to M300 daily, money enough to restock and put food on the table.
‘‘I am hopeful that in years to come, my business will grow into something big.’’
He says during his early days in the street, people used to bother him with questions on why he was not at school. Little did they know the circumstances that had forced him into the streets.
“It was very challenging and the environment was not welcoming,” he says.

‘‘People would always ask me why I left school at such a young age and that tore me into pieces. But I never gave up and I tried not to take that to heart considering that most of them were strangers.’’

Mohapi is just one of many children who have dropped out of school to venture out into the streets for survival.
Tseko Letsatsi, 18, is another.
He dropped out of school when he was just 14 to make the sojourn to the capital from Mafeteng, some 80 kilometres away.
Letsatsi said abject poverty and hunger drove him out of home.

His grandfather was looking after him and his younger sister because his parents were too poor to afford to take care of them.
‘‘I had no uniform and my parents were unable to pay for my fees. Going to school in private clothes made me feel like an outcast and I hated being expelled quarterly for the fees. It affected my school work hence I dropped out,’’ he said.

His grandfather gave him his last M300 to buy fruits and vegetables stock.
He said as time passed he opted to sell motoho (a traditional Sesotho sour porridge) as competition was too stiff in the fruits and vegetable market and he hardly made a profit.
“The motoho business is promising as I now have people who I supply weekly,” Letsatsi says.

“With the little that I make, I have to pay M1 200 yearly for my younger sister’s education to ensure that she doesn’t endure the same thing,’’ he says.
He says he was aware of the efforts of the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Social Development to help the vulnerable children and unfortunately, ‘‘as there were too many children desperate for assistance, I never got the opportunity’’.

Another is Mosiuoa Thebe, a 17-year-old who ventured into the streets at the age of 12.
He comes from Motimposo, a crime-plagued Maseru township.
Thebe is struggling to find his way to the top in the fruit and vegetable business.
He is employed by his neighbour.

He says people hardly buy his wares and most of the time they get rotten.
‘‘That does not sit well with my employer and at times he does not give me anything. He would say he used my salary to buy new stock,’’ Thebe says.
He recalls the day his employer caught him sleeping on duty.
‘‘Waking up very early around 5am led me to sleep,” he says.

“I was fired and had to plead for a second chance to avoid engaging in some of the unlawful things other kids put themselves in.”
These three cases showcase the extent to which child labour is rampant in Lesotho.
In most of the cases, the children are forced by circumstances to abandon home and school.
Nthabiseng Letsie, a Labour Inspector at the Ministry of Labour and Employment, defined child labour as any harmful work carried out by a child below the minimum age of that activity and it interferes with their schooling.

She says it is the ministry’s responsibility to ensure that child labour does not occur.
‘‘We work with other stakeholders to root out the causes as it is multi-faceted,’’ Letsie says.
She says some of the consequences of child labour are failure by families to break out of the cycle of poverty.
Children usually earn less than the set minimum wage.

‘‘This makes them unable to provide for the family we assume they will be able to provide for,’’ she says.
She says the community which has most children engaged in child labour does not improve because there is nothing they bring back to the community.
Letsie says there is a burden on the health services as children become stressed due to working at a young age.
Generally, she says ‘‘their right to education is violated’’.

“We planned to have public gatherings in communities to address the issue of child labour but unfortunately, due to financial problems and lack of resources, it did not happen as planned.”
She says they sometimes hold workshops for child protection teams in the districts to deal with child labour.
She says through a project called Strengthening Labour Inspections in Lesotho, implemented by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), labour inspectors were trained on how to extend labour inspections in the informal sector.

She says the interventions in the informal sector include ‘‘engagement in sensitisation programmes and awareness campaigns because other people do wrong due to lack of knowledge’’.
‘‘We will hold public gatherings for domestic workers and herd boys,’’ she says.
She says after training, they expect employers to abide by the law.

‘‘We will not just open cases at first hand but rather we will ensure that they understand what is required first and if they do not, we will go back to offer more training programme,’’ Letsie added.
The Labour Code prohibits the employment of children under the age of 16. The Children’s Protection Welfare Act (CPWA) requires parents to provide for their children who are below 18 years, while the Education Act says education is free and compulsory for children below 13 years.

Molebatsi Koalepe, a Labour Inspections Manager, said the Labour Code is not specific as to the kind of work children are prohibited from doing.
“It just stipulates that they should not be employed at a certain age,” said Koalepe.
The Labour Code is also silent on children working for themselves like Letsatsi and Mohapi.

Last year the US Bureau of International Labour Affairs noted that although Lesotho has progressive blueprints such as the Lesotho National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labor (APEC) (2013–2017) and the National Strategic Plan on Vulnerable Children (2012–2017), there was no evidence of implementation of these policies.

’Mapule Motsopa

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