Poverty and Child Labour Keeping Girls out of school in Angola

Luanda, Angola

It’s one o’clock in the afternoon when we catch sight of 15-year-old Juliana in the distance, hauling her school bag as she approaches the 4009 school gate in Mulundo, Funda.

As the first born in her family, she carries the burden of responsibility both figuratively and literally. She has been up since 5 o’clock in the morning working on the family farm before then taking some of the produce for sale at the local market dubbed the ‘Saturday market.’

Her hunger for education and a better future, keep her determined to go to school, no matter how exhausting it is.

"I work a lot, it's tiring but I never gave up on school," she says. Her teacher confirms this by sharing how she has just successfully completed her eighth grade. Juliana lives with her mother and her grandmother and they all work tirelessly on a daily basis to make ends meet. Juliana’s reality is that of many other teenagers in Funda Zone in Luanda, Angola.

13-year-old Ana Maria, who attends a neighbouring school in the Fortui neighborhood also begins her day before dawn, helping her mother with household chores before going to work. Her afternoons are reserved for the school where she attends the eighth grade. "It's tiring but I cannot give up on school," she says determinedly.

According to The International Labour Organization global estimates, child labour is widespread in Angola. A study carried out in 2007 in collaboration with UNICEF that focused on understanding children's work in Angola brought out a number of alarming insights including:

An estimated 1, 054,000 children aged 5-14 years .i.e 26 per cent of this age group are engaged in some of economic activity. Approximately 620,000 economically-active children are below the absolute minimum working age of 12 years, and an additional 118,000 (12-13 year-old) children are working beyond the admitted hour threshold for light work.

Almost one third of total Angolan children do not go to school and girls are as likely as boys to be involved in work, but slightly less likely to attend school.

The prevalence of work for children in rural areas is about two times that of urban areas, with girls having a high participation. It noted that in a country where approximately 85 percent of the labour force is concentrated in the agricultural sector it is not surprising to find most children concentrated in the category of “family work”. Boys are more likely to be paid than girls, while girls are more likely to do unpaid work.

In addition to field work, these children have to walk long distances on a daily basis to get to school, which is more difficult in the rainy season when the land is muddy. Concerned about this situation, Conceição Pacheco (pictured), a teacher from another neighborhood, Camucuto 2, emphasized that these girls need more support. "The population here lives on agriculture and fishing, they are poor families living with 100 Kwanzas (32 American cents) a day," she explained, adding the school, where she teaches distributes school lunches to ensure that students can have a daily snack. Despite the difficulties, Professor Conceição said that "it is amazing" that the girls with so many occupations still manage to do well in school. "Overall the students are very dedicated, I'm satisfied," she said.

To help students who are forced to work and travel long distances to school, teachers have developed special study projects to support them and help them make up for the lost hours and not fall behind in school. Professor Agostinho Pereira Francisco explained that most of the students are girls and that most of them are engaged in fieldwork. "Most of the students here come from Mulundu and Bairro Novo, the students come on foot, we need to support more the students," she said.

Marta Francisco, 18, a former student who lives in Kikabo, Bengo, knows the challenge of juggling school and work. Her determination to stick in school despite being exhausted from working long hours in the field, have seen her complete her primary. Currently she is waiting for an opportunity at the provincial headquarters where she wants to complete high school. "I have to work because I want to be a teacher. I cannot stop here, I have dreams and I want to have a different future than my mother had, I want to complete my schooling," she said.

Primary education in Angola is compulsory. In 2016 the Government adopted a law requiring compulsory, free education from the primary to middle school years. The plan was to extend free national education from six to nine years, eliminate school dropouts and eradicate illiteracy. Special education programmes were also established and aimed at school inclusion for children with disabilities. However the government estimates that approximately two million children are not attending school.

About three decades of civil conflict, limited access to the interior provinces, inadequate funding for education, lack of infrastructure and teachers, have led to an education crisis. Poverty is also a major challenge.

According to Humanium, in Angola, close to 1 in 4 children is forced to work to support the needs of their family. This is despite the fact that legislation in the country forbids child labour for those younger than 14. Reportedly, effectiveness and control of these standards are too weak to be fully respected.

It further states that 40% of the Angolan population lives below the poverty line. Children are employed on plantations or as fishermen and receive only enough money to buy a meal. In urban areas, young Angolans work as street vendors or as domestic servants for richer families and are subject to mistreatment, abuse or rape. Other children are exploited and end up in drug trafficking, human trafficking and forced prostitution.