Socio-religious implications of child- labour: a case study of the Embu community
Kamwaria, Alex N.
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About 250 million children in the world work in harzadous and exploitative labour conditions. Child-labour is a controversial and an emotive phenomenon that defies simple solutions. The idea that children have special needs, which sparkled the founding of UNICEF fifty four years ago, has now given way to the conviction that children have same spectrum of right as adults. This study is an attempt to highlight the complexity of child-labour, its persistence and adverse effects in the society. To facilitate this broad perspective, the study aimed at identifying the Aembu's traditional religious values, customs and practices that should be revitalized for prevention or reduction of child-labour. In a nutshell, we are examining a situation which is fluid and dynamic, yet recommending some of the traditional and customs that are based on the values developed and generated for generations. Chapter one shows the course towards this study by making a general analysis of the problem, and specifying the methods used to collect the data. This chapter further highlights how the course towards the ending of child-labour can be hastened or helped using the sentiments of various organisations and parties that are interested in the issue of child-labour. Chapter two gives an account of the basis of religion and work among the Aembu. From birth, children went through certain stages of life which exposed them to a millieu filled with religious rituals and practices. These rites were aimed at moulding them into upright members of the society. Children ix participated in economically productive labour activities within the context of their families. Through working together children learnt the required moral values such as mutual social responsibility, and corporate living. They also learnt that there were more blessings from Ngai (God) in sacrificing their efforts to the welfare of the other than in making oneself rich and prosperous at the expense of others. Chapter three identifies the place and role of children in the Embu community. Being the focus of our study, a child is not an isolated entity. There is the society in which it is born. There are also divine entities and social relations that are recognised by the society as valid and binding. This chapter further highlights some basic understanding of the African religious and sociophilosophical thinking, and the rationale for the established relationships with which the African child interacts. At the same time, the society is dynamic and experiencing changes that affect the status of the child. It is from this perspective that we proceed to assess the factors that contribute to exploitation of children in the labour industry. Chapter four examines the issue of child-labour in all its complexity, exposing the common myths about it, and exposing its causes. The contributing factors are multiple and overlapping. Denied their most basic rights, such as education, health and even shelter, children are trapped in cycles of poverty that put their lives in jeopardy. Compounding the problem is the paucity of statistics about the number of child-labourers, because the vast majority of children work in invisibility. x Since the causes of child-labour are complex, the solution must be comprehesive and multi-pronged. Chapter five assesses the role of contemporary institutions in ending child-labour. The single most institution that is best suited for the task of mobilising the society against child-labour is the church. The church can motivate and sponsor projects which have the merit of uplifting the standards of living of the people. Religious institutions can work in collaboration with the government and other parties or organisations to redress the plight of childlabourers. In line with the findings of this study, several strategies are proposed to help eliminate and prevent child-labour. The best method of protecting children from harzadous and exploitative labour is to revitalise and implement the traditional religious child-centred values, customs and beliefs. In the African traditional society, there were some values, beliefs and customs that were instrumental in promoting the welfare of children. Finally, some suggestions for further study are outlined.