Alarming atrocities are perpetrated against our most vulnerable and innocent citizens, our children. We hear of these every day, but how often do we reflect on the scourge of child labour? There will be no child labour when laws that govern access to basic education are strengthened.
This was the statement made by Department of Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga during commemorations on World Day Against Child Labour on 12 June. Elijah was referring to the Basic Education Laws Amendment (Bela) Bill, that introduces tougher penalties such as imprisonment and/or fines for parents who prevent their child from attending school.
However, in her published study “Child labour is a matter of national concern: What is the curriculum doing about it?”, Dr Anja Visser from the North-West University (NWU) interrogates the Department of Basic Education Curriculum Policy Statement, contending that it should provide in-depth knowledge on the meaning and forms of child labour.
Dr Visser first became interested in human trafficking while studying for her MEd, which led her to take a keen interest in the topic. After submitting her MEd, she enrolled as a PhD student in curriculum studies and successfully graduated in 2018. The title of her theses is: “Narratives of child trafficking survivors in rehabilitation: conceptualisations of freedom for human rights education”. With this study, she started her research career in curriculum studies, focusing on human rights and human rights education.
She says trafficking in persons is a gross human rights violation. “There is a lack of knowledge about human trafficking in South Africa, and this makes many people vulnerable. We don't know enough about human trafficking in South Africa yet, so I wanted to learn more about child sex trafficking in the country to better understand this phenomenon. Upon completing my PhD, I started focusing on child labour.”
Dr Visser mentions that child labour and trafficking in persons are multi-layered, complex concepts. “I realised that trafficking, child labour, and child sexual exploitation are all overlapping concepts, and can also be connected to child labour to some extent.
“I also realised that people are more often exploited by people they know, rather than the ‘stranger danger’ concept that we were taught,” she adds.
According to Dr Visser many people do not understand what child labour or trafficking is, how to spot the signs, or how to keep themselves safe from it; this leaves them vulnerable to becoming victims. “People often also believe it will not happen to them. Additionally, because of lacking skills, education and employment opportunities, people participate in illegal labour practices to survive.”
She started to thoroughly investigate what the Department of Basic Education intended learners to learn from the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) about child labour. To substantiate her view on the curriculum’s shortcomings, she examined all the compulsory CAPS documents to explore how and to what extent the Grade 1 to 9 curriculum addresses different forms of child labour.
One of her main findings was that CAPS documents and the concept of child labour are political in nature. “For example, not only is the CAPS silent on the matter of children working before the age of 15, but also on the issue of trafficking for child labour.”
"One of the purposes of the South African compulsory school curriculum, as articulated in the CAPS, is to facilitate the transition of learners from education institutions to their future workplaces, but for what type of workplace?"
According to Dr Visser, our country’s challenges cannot be solved by the Department of Basic Education alone. Businesses, families, and individuals all need to act and solve the problems in their communities. However, she contends that the Department of Basic Education has a responsibility towards this country’s education and its people, as it states on its website: “Our vision is of a South Africa in which all our people will have access to lifelong learning, education and training opportunities, which will, in turn, contribute towards improving the quality of life and building a peaceful, prosperous and democratic South Africa. Our mission is to provide leadership in establishing a South African education system for the 21st century."
Dr Visser says when CAPS is analysed along with the vision and mission of the Department of Basic Education, it is clear that something is missing. “When something like child labour or other human rights violations is rife in our country, we can question this vision and mission. I think even though the Department of Basic Education cannot solve all the country's challenges, they would have to reflect and ask how they can reach their vision and mission through the CAPS,” she adds.
In her view, it is the department’s role to ensure that every child is in school to prevent child labour. “However, I do not think children in schools will prevent them from being exploited through child labour. I believe children need to be taught what child labour is, how to recognise illegal labour practices, and they should receive a high-quality education to find good-paying jobs. It is essential for children to take advantage of educational opportunities provided to them.”
Dr Visser concludes that, moreover, the Minister of Basic Education states in each CAPS document that the curriculum plays a key role in realising the Constitution's aims – one of these being to "improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person".
“Sadly, when children are stuck in illegal child labour (especially in the case of the worse forms of child labour, such as child trafficking), their quality of life and potential are not freed.”
Dr Anja Visser