Humanitarians from the charity Tearfund Scotland are tackling the problem in the north of Malawi by signing up volunteers to become surrogate mums and dads for scores of youngsters being deprived of their childhood and an education.
The charity says the initiative, backed by Scottish Government funding, is helping drive a major shift in attitude across communities and opening up opportunities for the younger generation. Tomorrow is World Day Against Child Labour.For teenagers like Emmanuel Mwembe the battle to the classroom has not been easy.
“My father would beat me when I said I wanted to go to school,” he said.
“Even my own mother was not giving me food because I was making this decision. For one and a half years I didn’t go to school at all. This was my life and I had no choice.”
Now Tearfund Scotland’s project is offering new hope for children like Emmanuel. It is working to stamp out child labour and increase access to education in the Karonga district.
The latest move is being led by a group of community volunteers made up of a number of Scottish volunteers, who have formed what are known locally as Mother and Father groups to take on the role of stand-in parents.
They aim to educate families, manage conflict and speak up for young people who feel unable to challenge the status quo.
Tearfund Scotland say the groups are not only helping individuals but also influencing entire communities through a new set of by-laws, introduced by village chiefs as part of the project.
The rules mean parents who refuse to send their children to school can now be penalised.
Members of the group work closely with schools, checking attendance registers and identifying young people who are regularly missing lessons.
Almost 38 per cent of children in Karonga were involved in child labour at the start of the project.
Emmanuel is one of many children who have benefited from the scheme. His mother, Maria Mwembe, said: “We wouldn’t listen at first but little by little we understood, and we released Emmanuel to go to school.”
Lynne Paterson, director of Tearfund Scotland, said: “The project is all about breaking down obstacles that get in the way of a good education.”