Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا

Book Review: The Place of Work in African Childhoods By Dr. Pape Chérif Bertrand Bassène

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Michael Bourdillon and Georges Mulumbwa (Eds.), The Place of Work in African Childhoods. Dakar, CODESRIA, 2014, 240 p.

"The Place of Work in African Childhoods" is a collective work edited by Professor emeritus Michael Bourdillon and Georges Mulumbwa. This volume arises from the Child and Youth Studies Institute in Dakar in September 2010, it encourages discussions about how labor enters and affects the lives of children and young people in Africa. It does take for granted neither the traditional values surrounding children’s work, nor international standards that are against it. The discussions focus on empirical observations of the lives of African children, the work they do, its place in their lives, and what the children say about it.

Besides, this book of 240 pages, explores the issue of ‘child labour’ in a CODESRIA’s perspective by looking at both benefits and harm. It deals first with material economic benefits of work as important for children in impoverished communities; it also considers how work can contribute to developing non-cognitive skills and to changing social relations. The book has 12 contributions in addition to the introduction and the conclusion that constitute respectively chapters 1 and 14.

The [Introduction: Children’s Work in Africa, (pp.1-20)] by Michael Bourdillon, discusses the conflicting values (right to work vs benefit of work), and demonstrates how antithetical African and Western views are in term of child development. However, the western views are becoming popular amongst the elites in non- western countries. And many, even in Africa, have taken up the campaign against child labor in certain low-income countries without taking into account the local realities and the fact children may need an income of their own.

Chapter 2, [Work opportunities and Frictions for Rural Child Migrants in West African Cities (pp.21-38)] looks at the participation of rural children and youth in the urban labor market and focuses specifically from the start of migration. Dorte Thorsen has come to the conclusion that, rural children and youth‘s navigation through the urban informal labor market begins even before they come to the city and is spurred by their expectations of what they can achieve as migrants. Besides, migration does not constitute a break with the family but rather incorporates into the larger network of kin, and despite the migrants’ vulnerability of being exploited, rural child migrants gradually achieve upward social mobility.

Yaw Ofosu-Kusi, is interested in Chapter 3 by the issue of [Children’s Motivations for Migration and Engagement in Labour in the City of Accra (pp.39-54)]. The Chapter offers some insights into the growing phenomenon of children’s migration from rural areas to work on the streets of Accra. According to the author, taking to the street is therefore, for most children, a conscious decision. And despite the risks it incurs, it is still an option they prefer to the privations of village life. All too often, some Ghanaian children from the villages like many others in Africa, find themselves confronted by situations in which schooling is not feasible, as families struggle to meet the regular payment of school expenses. This is one of the reasons why they decide to migrate voluntarily to the city in search of work.

Chapter 4 is presented by Georges Mulumbwa Mutambwa, [Repenser la question du travail en RDC: une approche sociolinguistique des activités de l’enfant à Lumumbashi (pp.55-74)]. This chapter proposes to review the different viewpoints and attitudes of different agencies involved in the issue of child labor, by defining the framework in which these views were forged; and in reporting on the diverse experiences of child labor through time and space. The chapter then highlights the culturally accepted positions in a context of financial insecurity, school dropouts that may explain why the exercise by the child of an income- generating activity is often appreciated and encouraged by parents.

Chapter 5 by Seleshi Zeleke, [Children and Employers’ Perspectives on Child Work: A case study of Weaving Children in Addis Ababa, Ethiopa (pp.75-92)], investigates the beneficial and harmful features of labor in a group of children from Southern Ethiopia in the Capital Addis Ababa. He gives a mix of positive and negative sentiments expressed by the children and their employers. The children are happy to be able to weave cloths and hope to leave their employers to become employers themselves. But they are disappointed by the fact that they could not go to school, they also feel that they are relatively independent under their employers.

Joseph Lah Lo-oh is the author of chapter 6, [Child Domestic Work in Cameroon: An Exploratory Study of Perceptions by Working Children, (pp.93-106)]. He presents in his study a background profile of Cameroon, a country where it is common for middle-class family to have one or several children working for them in exchange for a very modest wage and minimal education. The chapter reveals the platform on which child domestic work prevails in Cameroon. It also ’highlights the resilience, agency and the ability of Cameroonian children to overcome the most difficult conditions of life and turn their challenges into milestones upon they write their success stories’; while counting the many problems and challenges encountered in this kind of work done by children.

In Chapter 7, [Enfants et vente d’eau dans les artères de Brazzaville: un nouveau dynamisme d’un travail à la criée (pp.107-123)], Analyse Kimpolo tries to report on the children from Brazzaville that went onto the streets to shout about their water product’s quality and make it sell. A child labor, seen as a child learning experience in African culture; but appears more as a struggle against the poverty that plagues major urban centers. For the author, this situation does not allow an opening to other more promising sectors for children who harbor greater ambitions.

Cina Gueye in Chapter 8, [La place du travail dans la vie des enfants talibés évoluant dans les daaras de type traditionnel à Saint-Louis, (pp.125-146)], is interested in children’s place of work in educational structures like the daaras (Koranic schools), which are typical example of the traditional forms of education in ancient Senegal. The author argues that learners or talibés are fullyfledge participants in Senegalese cities and rural Senegal. So, their experiences cannot be reduced to their most visible activity, that is to say, begging. The child labor or the talibé activities must be integrated in a range of activities that come from a clear choice, according to him.

Affoué Philomena Koffi in Chapter 9, [Travail des enfants et éducation en Côte d’Ivoire : les perceptions des nounous mineures d’Abidjan (pp.147-164)], is interested by the case of girls who traditionally were responsible for overseeing their younger siblings; and who nowadays were invited in return for remuneration, to look after the children of members of their extended families. The study presents and analyzes the trajectory of these underage nursemaids, after a survey on their working conditions and their perceptions of education in relation to the activity they are undertaking.

Chapter 10, [Compatibility of Work and School : Informal School Work Arrangements in Central Kenya (pp.165-183)], demonstrates how the strategies the Government of Kenya employs to encourage schooling by hindering all children from employment on the assumption that when they are denied paid work, they will automatically enroll in school, is a more complex process. Gladwell N. Wambiri argues that children in certain family and socio-economic circumstances are not able to attend school even when primary education is free. Thus this chapter takes the different perspective that children’s circumstances around the world, or even in one locale, are not and can never be universal. What works for a given child depends largely on the child’s living circumstances particularly the family and conditions within the family. Therefore, measures for the good of child must consider the child’s circumstances.

Komi N’kere authors chapter 11, [Effets des travaux domestiques sur la scolarité des enfants au Togo: cas des écoliers dela ville de Lomé et du village d’Adétikopé (pp.185-199)]. This chapter tackles the issue of domestic work and children’s schooling in a country like Togo, where most of the children help their parents in domestic activities. Based on his researches in Lomé and the village of Adétikopé, the author comes to the conclusion that domestic work does not necessarily have negative effects on children’s schooling.

[Travail et scolarisation : modes d’affiliation des enfants au double emploi en milieu périurbain de Kalaban-Coro (Mali), (pp.201-219)], is a study by Moriké Dembelé. Chapter 12 main objective is to understand the employing of children attending schools through their affiliation modes and the arbitration they make between professional and academic training. For the author, the school system has consequences on the current development of child labor. Its progressive decline, especially in suburban areas, has increased the use of early vocational training in environments where people are poor.

Chapter 13, [Négociations d’existence par les enfants des militaires à Kisangani, (pp.221-236)] by Edmond Mokuinema Bomfie; deals with the collateral damage of the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1997. The study is interested in the labor work of children of military members in the processing of agricultural products workshops in Kisanghani, to understand how they manage to cope with the challenges of survival, in periods of armed conflict when their parents are at the fronts. The study reveals that their income allows them to meet priority needs such as paying their school fees, and keep a positive image and recreate a social status of themselves.

Chapter 14 [Concluding Refections (pp.237-240)], which is the conclusion of, “The Place of Work in African Childhoods” insists on the fact that child work is a reality in Africa, in a variety of fields and activities for both cultural and economic reasons. However, expeditious political solutions are not realistic, because child work is sometimes mandatory for survival. Moreover, it can provide important production or income to contribute to schooling or improving quality of life. Thus, the conclusion of this work is that children’s contributions to their families and communities should be acknowledge and appreciated rather than condemned as ‘child labor to be eliminated’.

October 9 2015