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DADDY DIARIES: Child labour or helping out?

Thursday January 9 2020

Where exactly is the thin line between child labour and helping out? ILLUSTRATION | IGAH

Where exactly is the thin line between child labour and helping out? ILLUSTRATION | IGAH 

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On a hot summer day last year, I decided to take an outdoors walk and soak in some sun because for some reason my house is always cold regardless of the temperatures outside.

As is the norm my son tagged along; which was a good thing as he too needs the vitamin D. As we strolled slowly around the block, we came across something that grabbed his attention; the lawnmower.

The estate gardener had been trimming grass and taken a break, leaving the machine parked but still purring on the sidewalk.

The youngster ran towards it and attempted to mow like he had watched the operator do, shouting at me to watch how good a gardener he was. He was four years old in 2019, and a lawnmower is not a toy, so you can tell he put so much effort into making that thing move.

His small body slightly slanted and arms outstretched to clutch onto the handlebar, you could tell he was ecstatic, swelling with pride for every inch the beast moved.

I took the phone out, positioned myself and took a photo of him basking in the glory of being the day’s driver.



I posted the photo online and lightly captioned it ‘training the future generation about offering a helping hand.’

Like hungry eagles looking for prey to devour, Facebook gods and goddesses descended on that photo, calling me out for apparent child labour, some even threatening to report me to the authorities.

Efforts to explain that the boy simply fell in love with the machine and wanted a go at it fell on deaf ears. So heated did the debate get that I had to pull down the post, albeit unwillingly.

That prompted a question in me; where exactly is the thin line between child labour and helping out? If you ask me, it is a grey area and the thin line remains blurred, probably because it is a concept we have adopted without understanding the intricate details.

Does a father sending his young sons to the forest to cut down a tree and repair a leaking roof in the family’s house qualify as child labour?

How then would we view the fact that Biblical David was always sent to the bush to herd his father’s sheep, sometimes encountering marauding lions and bears? Was young David being cheered on by the masses as he purposed to fight a giant in the name of Goliath child labour?


Let me bring this debate closer home. I (including many current day parents) grew up in villages where girls trekked for long distances to get water for the households, sometimes making over ten trips every day.

The boys, on the other hand, would be laden with huge bundles of firewood with instructions that they walk around the village hawking to neighbours, out of which money for supper and other budgetary requirements came.

What difference exists between the young boy hawking a bundle of heavy firewood on his head and the one breaking down stones in a quarry as far as labour laws are concerned?

Those were not easy tasks to be honest, but the need to undertake them not only as grooming us for the future but also survival was instilled in us to the extent that they became normal.

There exist instances where the boys’ abilities to make good husbands and leaders was judged by how well they performed seemingly difficult chores.

I was lucky enough to be born in a family that could afford house managers and garden boys who were paid to be household helps, but even I was not exempted from tasking chores.

Countless times I have been sent to the posho mill, sometimes far away because there was a blackout or the nearest one had broken down, failure to which the Luhyia in us would ‘sleep hungry.’

The silver lining to this revelation is that I can comfortably say I have managed to raise my kid in the absence of the mother because growing up, my own mother made me do all sorts of chores.


One dictionary defines child labour as the employment of minors in an industry or business, especially when illegal or considered exploitative.

It does not expound on the yardstick used to determine illegality and the point at which it becomes exploitative, which as I mentioned leaves everything vague. Does it therefore mean every African child, save for a very negligible percentage, has been a victim of child labour?

The inclusion of business and industry in the above definition brings a commercial angle to it, which begs the question as to whether Indian families go against children’s rights by making their children join family businesses at tender ages.

It may not look tasking since most are given light jobs like punching figures in the ETR machine or tallying costs of goods purchased by customers, but is it legal?

My son’s interest in mowing the lawn was not a duty delegated by me, neither did it have a commercial aspect, but to some it qualified as child labour because the image made it appear like the boy was struggling.

So, can someone help me redefine and understand CHILD LABOUR?