Monday, January 10, 2011
Patuma Mjahito from Malawi’s lakeshore area of Malombe in Mangochi is a very reliable handmaid; she does every household chore available in her homestead. Waking up at 5 AM every day; Patuma has to light up a fire outdoors using firewood – she uses the fire to boil water and cook porridge for breakfast – her father, mother and two of her younger siblings use the boiled water for washing up. When it rains, she lights up a charcoal fire on a burner which she takes indoors to boil water and cook. Patuma is only seven years old.
Although she looks frail and half-starved, Patuma is still in charge of taking care of her household while her father goes off the whole day working in other people’s fields as he tries to raise money for his family’s upkeep. The young girl’s mother toils in the family’s field where she grows maize, the country’s staple and leguminous crops to feed the family.
Back at home, Patuma, who has never seen the inside of a classroom, is left to look after her 4-month old brother and her sister aged three.
Patuma is one of many children across Malawi involved in work that is not fit for them. According to a Plan International report of August 2009 titled "Hard Work, Long Hours and Little Pay", Malawi has the highest incidence of child labour in southern Africa. Up to 88.9 percent of the children in the age group 5-14 work in the agricultural sector.
The United Nations indicates that around one in three children are engaged in child labour in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Blame it on poverty,” Patuma’s mother, Khadija said. “She is the eldest in this family and she has to play her part in keeping this family together. She does not do any agricultural work as it is more tedious and so we leave her home to take care of her younger relatives.”
Khadija spends almost half the day in the field before venturing into the bush where she collects twigs which Patuma uses to light up the fire.
“She is also in charge of making lunch for the family – my husband rarely comes home for lunch and so Patuma makes less food then,” explained Khadija.
Patuma’s father, Chadwick, makes an average of $20 per month and the money is used to buy things like salt, second-hand clothes and paraffin which the household uses to light up the house at night.
There is no hope that Patuma will escape the poverty cycle that is tormenting her family. She does not have a chance to go to school and all she knows is that she has to be responsible for her family’s welfare.
Patuma is “the skirt”.