World Bulletin / News Desk
In a report titled “A Bitter Harvest: Child Labor and Human Rights Abuses on Tobacco Farms in Zimbabwe” released Thursday, HRW reveals that minors often work in hazardous conditions, performing tasks that threaten their health and safety.
“Child workers are exposed to nicotine and toxic pesticides, and many suffer symptoms that are consistent with nicotine poisoning from handling tobacco leaves,” Dewa Mavhinga, the HRW southern Africa director said in Harare.
In 2016, Zimbabwe was the world’s sixth-largest tobacco producer, and the crop remains the country’s most valuable export commodity, generating $933 million.
"Child labor and other human rights abuses on tobacco farms in Zimbabwe tarnish the tobacco industry’s contributions to the country’s economic growth and improved livelihoods," the report said.
Zimbabwe has roughly 125,000 registered tobacco growers and according to the report, 125 small-scale tobacco farmers and hired workers, including children were interviewed and expressed ignorance of the country laws.
“We also found out that even though the vast majority of people we interviewed got sick with symptoms consistent of nicotine poisoning, almost no one had ever heard of it.
"They had been informed by the government, by tobacco companies, about what nicotine poisoning was and how to protect themselves,” Margaret Wurth, children’s rights researcher with Human Rights Watch said.
Officials at the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board -- TIMB, a tobacco farming regulatory and advisory statutory body -- said Zimbabwe has laws that restrict child labor.
“In Zimbabwe, we are happy that we do not have what is called child labor, that is children going to other farms to work for payment.
"But if it is a case of children helping their parents in tobacco fields in preparation, that is something that happens,” Isheunesu Moyo, TIMB spokesman, told Anadolu Agency after the report was released.
However, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), Secretary General Japhet Moyo said child labor was increasing in Zimbabwe.
“We have seen an increase in child labor in the country owing to 20 years of a poor economy. Yes we have laws but Zimbabwe suffers from nonimplementation and poor awareness,” Japhet Moyo said.