Skip to page content
Bureau of International Labor Affairs
Bookmark and Share


I. Overview

Children are found working in Zimbabwe's export-oriented mining sector. No children are formally employed in mines, but children, working either for independent operators or through subcontractors, can be found mining chromium and gold. The United States imports chrome from Zimbabwe and, although there is no evidence of direct imports of gold, it is reported that gold from Zimbabwe is smuggled to the United States.

II. Child Labor in Export Industries

The International Labor Organization's International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) 1992 report, Towards Action Against Child Labour in Zimbabwe, is the most authoritative source of information on child labor in Zimbabwe. The ILO report asserts that a combination of factors have necessitated that child labor be viewed within a new framework:

It is believed by some that child labour today is a natural extension of what children have always done in Zimbabwean society. Traditionally children looked after cattle, foraged for food, looked after younger children and worked in family fields. Children were socialized from an early age towards playing a productive role in society. While this has historical relevance, it is generally agreed that the current socio-economic situation in Zimbabwe has changed the context, demanding a re-evaluation of the positive and negative effects of children's work.1

The only export sectors identified to use child labor in the ILO report are the chrome mining industry and gold panning. The report states that, "children are found mining operations, especially in gold panning." 2 There is need for further investigation and comprehensive documentation of child labor in these sectors.

Chrome Mining

It is alleged that children are employed in small-scale chrome operations which are linked to larger formal sector concerns. In 1984, the Ministry of Labour, Manpower Planning and Social Welfare reported that "purchasing contracts between middlemen for large mining concerns and small mine workings in Darwendale and Mutoroshanga set prices so low that women and children were drafted to work in order to increase output. The chrome was produced by the small mine workers at a fixed price per ton which represented less than a third of the price paid by large mines to the middlemen. The children who worked to produce such profits for these middlemen lacked safe working conditions, had no monitoring of work hazards and no protective clothing."3

While these operations were suspended, there have been periodic, ongoing reports of small operators hiring persons to dig into the tunnels and entrances of mines abandoned by the subsidiaries of Zimbabwe's two major chrome companies. Reports suggest that the owners of these mines often contract the actual mining work to subcontractors responsible for hiring labor, and that these subcontractors sometimes hire children as employees.

Children are also reported to work in chrome mining cooperatives where the "open cast" surface mining method is used. Children are reported to do the actual digging, as well as the sorting of chrome from rubbish. In underground mines, children allegedly lift mined material to the surface.4

All economic activity of cooperatives is overseen by the Ministry of National Affairs, Employment Creation, and Cooperatives, and thus is unregulated by either the Ministry of Mines, the Ministry of Public Service, Labor and Social Welfare, or the mining industry's National Employment Council. As children living in cooperatives often work alongside of their parents, and the Zimbabwean government has been avidly promoting the use of cooperatives, the increased use of children in chrome mining has been a direct, if unintended, consequence of government policy.

Gold Mining

Widespread panning for gold began in Zimbabwe in 1989 as many farmers and rural people, suffering from the effects of drought, poor harvests, structural adjustment, and depressed prices, turned to goldpanning as a source of income. Since then, the number of persons engaged in gold-panning has risen dramatically, making it one of Zimbabwe's largest sources of employment, as well as one of the country's preeminent ecological threats.

The number of panners has been variously estimated at between 50,000 and 500,000.5 With the world price of gold at approximately $350 per ounce, even discounting for middlemen, a panner can earn a livable income by netting two to three ounces per year. As more panners per family mean more gold, whole families, children included, frequently pan together.

Although panners are legally required to hold a permit and to sell their gold to the Reserve Bank, compliance with the law is rare. The large numbers of panners, coupled with the huge geographical expanse of the activity, make the industry virtually impossible to regulate. Because of the difficulty in regulating and enforcing panning, the industry has become rife with middlemen, foreign traders, bounty hunters, and others who are quick to provide instant cash to panners. None of the Zimbabwean government's attempts to regulate the industry have been successful and it is believed that the majority of the gold panned ultimately leaves Zimbabwe illegally.

III. Laws of Zimbabwe

A. National Child Labor Laws

At present, Zimbabwe's labor code does not address child labor. While there is no minimum age set by the government, labor standards for the mining industry are determined by the industry-wide collective bargaining agreement developed by the National Employment Council (NEC) for the Mining Industry, an incorporated body composed of representatives of labor and management. Under Zimbabwean law, the industry agreement made by NEC is binding on all employers and employees in the industry, whether or not they are members. Under the current NEC agreement, negotiated in 1990, no person under 17 may be employed in the mining industry.6

Although the NEC agreement has the authority of law, and the NEC itself has a four-man inspectorate to enforce the agreement, violations occur. There are persistent allegations of the use of child labor by independent mine operators who are not members of the NEC. Because of the small size of the NEC's inspectorate, inspections take place only when specific violations are brought to its attention.7

Some specific activities are prohibited for children under the Children's Adoption and Protection Act, 1972, The Labor Relations Act, 1985, and the Factories and Work Act, 1984. These provisions are inadequate and the current ambiguity and weakness in the laws has contributed to the lax enforcement of child labor regulations.8 The Government of Zimbabwe is currently addressing these legal shortcomings and considering adoption of a draft labor law written in cooperation with the ILO.

The draft labor law, which is due to be presented to the legislature, clearly defines minimum ages for various sectors of work. Part VII, chapter I, of the draft labor law applies to all employers and employees and establishes the basic minimum age at 15. The exceptions include light work and work in a school or training institution as part of education or training (age 13), contractual apprenticeships (age 13), and work that is hazardous or immoral (age 18). The legislation also specifies that no contract with a child less than 15 years old is enforceable, even if the child is married or has his or her guardian's approval.9

Because Zimbabwe currently has no child labor laws, there is no enforcement program.

B. Education Laws

Between 1980 and 1991, both the number of schools and student enrollment more than doubled in Zimbabwe under a government policy aimed at achieving the goal of Universal Primary Education. One negative effect of this rapid expansion was a decline in the quality of education.10 Currently, 73 percent of boys and 69 percent of girls complete primary school.11 Thereafter, students begin to drop out at a high rate, so that the vast majority do not complete secondary school. With age, the gap in enrollment between boys and girls also grows so that a much larger percentage of boys ultimately graduate from secondary school.

Education was free in Zimbabwe until rising government budget deficits forced the government to impose school fees in 1992. In some schools students are provided with books, in others not; in most of the country parents must buy their children school uniforms.12 In some schools in Harare, overcrowding and/or students' work responsibility has forced schools to "hot-seat" students by conducting separate morning and afternoon sessions.

On commercial farms, education is provided to children in farm schools that are usually paid for and operated by the farm owner. As parents usually cannot pay the necessary fees, many commercial farm owners close the schools down during the harvest season and make children work in return for the use of the schools.13

C. International Conventions

The Government of Zimbabwe is a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.14 Zimbabwe has not ratified ILO Convention No. 138 Concerning the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment. Zimbabwe has not ratified ILO Conventions No. 5 or No. 59 Concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment in Industry.15

IV. Programs and Efforts To Address Child Labor

In late 1993 the Zimbabwean Government created a Child Labor Task Force Committee, composed of representatives of the following ministries: Education and Culture; National Affairs, Employment Creation, and Cooperatives; Public Service, Labor and Social Welfare; Health and Child Welfare; Lands, Agriculture, and Water Development; and Local Government and Rural and Urban Development. The Committee has been charged with defining child labor, determining problem areas, and suggesting legislation to alleviate these problems.16

1 Towards Action Against Child Labour in Zimbabwe (International Labor Organization, 1992) 43-44 [hereinafter Towards Action Against Child Labor in Zimbabwe].

2 Id. at 4.

3 Id. at 49.

4 Interview with Jeffrey Mutandare, President, Associated Mineworkers Union, by U.S. Department of Labor official (June 14, 1994) [hereinafter Interview with Associated Mineworkers Union].

5 A Chamber of Mines official gave the figure of 50,000 to 100,000 gold panners while the Associated Mineworkers Union claimed that there are approximately 500,000. Other sources reported varying numbers between these figures. Interview with Doug Verden, Labor Relations Manager, Chamber of Mines, by Department of Labor official (June 13, 1994)[hereinafter Interview with Chamber of Mines official]; Interview with Associated Mineworkers Union.

6 Interview with Chamber of Mines official.

7 Id.

8 Towards Action Against Child Labour in Zimbabwe at 5.

9 "Proposals for a Draft Labor Act," ILO Labor Law and Labor Relations Branch, (August 11, 1993).

10 The Government of Zimbabwe and UNICEF: Programme of Cooperation 1995-2000 (Harare: UNICEF, October 1993) 69.

11 Interview with Lauchlan Munro, Assistant Planning Officer, UNICEF, by U.S. Department of Labor official (June 13, 1994).

12 Interview with Remus Mukuwaza, Zimbabwe Chemicals, Plastics, and Allied Workers Union, by U.S. Department of Labor official (June 14, 1994).

13 Interview with Nicholas Mudzengerere, Assistant Secretary General, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, by U.S. Department of Labor official (June 14, 1994).

14 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993 (U.S. Department of State, February, 1994) 1403.

15 List of Ratifications by Convention and Country (as at 31 December 1992) (Geneva: International Labor Organization, 1993).

16 Interview with Mrs. Lilliam Mudzonga, Acting Secretary, and Mrs. S.M. Zamchiya, Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare, by U.S. Department of Labor official (June 13, 1994).