Malawi has the highest incidence of child labour in southern Africa. 88.9% of the children in the age group 5-14 work in the agricultural sector, where tobacco estatesare highly represented. The number of children working on tobacco farms in Malawi has been estimated at 78,000 although the actual number is thought to be much higher.
Previous research gives some information on the different activities children are engaged in on tobacco farms, some information about the hazards children face and some understanding of why children are involved in this work. But very little work has been done with children themselves to find out how they experience and understand the work they do or to find out what children see as the best form of intervention.
For this reason Plan Malawi decided to undertake this participatory study. The research will be used to inform the work Plan and its partners in Malawi are doing to raise awareness of child labour on tobacco farms, to advocate for changed conditions and to develop interventions for the affected children.
The research approach was a participatory one in which 44 children (aged 12-18) from three districts across Malawi (Lilongwe, Kasungu and Mzimba) took part in a series of workshops. All of the children had worked full-time on tobacco farms during the 2007/2008 season. 16 were working full-time on tobacco farms at the time of the research and 18 part-time. The children worked on a range of different farms from large estates to small family farms. All worked outside their own families. Parents and para-civic educators were also consulted.
The workshops, which were carefully constructed to take into account ethical issues, included drawing, mapping, storytelling and discussion. All of the discussion was recorded and transcribed and this formed the data which was analysed using thematic analysis. The findings are presented under the set of themes that emerged from the analysis.