At the tender age of nine, Lemio Taban knows better than most his age what it means to work through school vacation. He and his older brother are among many pupils who spend weeks crushing stones under a shelter made of sacks and cartons that do little to protect them from blistering heat or pounding rain.
Lemio Taban (left) and his brother, who did not want his first name used.Given the low education standards in one of the world’s poorest regions, few parents can afford private school fees for their children. In the wake of civil war that killed millions of Sudanese, many parents are missing altogether.
“If we don’t crush the jebel, we don’t go to school,” said Lemio, who lost his father.
Jebel, a residence area outside Juba whose name means mountain in Arabic, is also shorthand for the tedious work of splitting stones from the surrounding area for use in construction. The children typically earn one Sudanese pound, or about 33 U.S. cents, per bucket, which takes between three and four hours to fill.
They say the pay is far too little, but that they have no other option.
South Sudan’s draft constitution, not yet passed by parliament, calls for free or affordable primary school for all children. But many families who opt for more expensive private schools with higher education standards cannot afford the fees.
Buildings near the workplace.During school vacation, youth like Lodiong Joseph, 14, spend their days crushing stones to pay the tuition for next term.
Private school fees in Juba average between 300 and 450 Sudanese pounds per year, or about U.S. $110 to $170.
The children’s employer, Sarah Eijo, was a refugee in Uganda during Sudan’s civil war. Since returning after the 2005 peace agreement, she said the only form of work available to her is selling the buckets of crushed stones to construction workers.
Lawrence Korbandy, chair of Southern Sudan’s Human Rights Commission, said the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan should be backed by a legislation to protect children. But he doesn’t regard the children’s “jebel” crushing as labour, even though this is contrary to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Sudan is a signatory.
Construction workers use stones crushed by children.Korbandy said the children doing this work are “self-employed,” but he called for greater efforts and policies to reduce poverty in South Sudan.
Job Wani, national program coordinator for the International Labor Organization, disagrees. Working under quarry-like conditions is a form of child labour, he said, unlike lighter jobs like selling newspapers.
Regina Oso Lullo of Southern Sudan’s Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, said the government plans to work on a legislation protecting children.
The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or opinions of the publishers of www.theniles.org
Pascal works as editor and radio-correspondent for South Sudan Radio, a state-run broadcasting station.