It’s a bright, peaceful day in Mozambique as Henrique Cintura and his wife Ana watch their 12-year-old daughter, Belta, setting off for school in the cotton farming community of Ratane, a remote, rural village in Mecuburi District, northeastern Mozambique. As she leaves, Henrique reflects on the changes in their community since the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and their on-the-ground implementing partner, Sociedade Algodoeira de Namialo (SANAM), began supporting local cotton farmers in adopting sustainable farming practices and understanding the value of children’s education.
"At busy times of the year, such as sowing and harvesting, we need our daughter’s help in the fields. But, in the past, school wasn’t a priority during these times, so Belta had less time for school and homework, and little time to play with her friends."
In Mozambique, nearly 50% of people live in poverty and social inequality is growing,1 with large income gaps between urban professionals and remote, rural farming communities. Farmers, in particular, often rely on the support of their entire family, regardless of their age, to support during the farming season. Child labour affects more than one million children in the country,2 and many children drop out of classes before they complete their education. Girls, in particular, may leave school earlier, due to pressure to help in the home, or through marrying early, becoming housewives and helping their husbands in the fields.
To give children the best chance in life, it’s vital that farmers learn to raise their yields in a sustainable, cost-effective way, and for all children to be free from the burden of heavy or hazardous work that threatens their health and safety and activities that interfere with their education.
“When I was regularly helping my parents in the cotton field, I often had no strength left to complete my homework or play,” explains Belta. “In class, I was too tired to concentrate on my lessons, and I struggled to do my homework.”
12-year-old Belta Cintura
12-year-old Belta Cintura
Understanding that changing families’ attitudes towards education is critical to improving children’s lives, and in line with BCI’s commitment to the International Labour Organization’s Decent Work agenda and the UN-led push for education for all, our on-the-ground partner SANAM, took steps to shift the community’s perceptions – for good. Encouraged by BCI to find innovative ways to engage with the community, the SANAM team developed a creative, extra-curricular educational programme for cotton farming communities in the districts where they worked within Nampula Province. Through classroom teaching, interactive role play, sports and dance, the programme sought to change attitudes and inspire families to begin passing on the value of education through the generations. Agreements were signed between the schools involved, SANAM, and district directorates for education, enabling the consistent implementation of the project throughout Nampula Province.
SANAM has already reached 10,000 children in five districts, including the 650 girls and boys at Nampula’s Ratane Elementary School, where Belta’s family has lived and farmed cotton for generations. As well as improving farmers’ knowledge about child labour issues through the BCI Programme, parents, too— many of whom are cotton farmers — were involved in the educational programme. Through four informative sessions throughout the school year, SANAM talked to the children and their parents about the risks of working at their age, and the dangers of heavy and hazardous tasks in the field and discussed why going to school was critical to their ability to learn and achieve good grades. Importantly, they addressed the importance of gender equality and women’s rights, focusing in particular on the issue of teenage marriage. In the past, girls in the community have married as young as 13. SANAM encouraged the children to see that allowing girls to continue their education for longer would benefit the entire family.
The children also learnt how taking part in sports and cultural activities helps to keep them strong and healthy and supports their ability to learn. SANAM staff gave away free footballs and volleyball nets, and together with Ratane’s school teachers, promoted activities such as football, volleyball, running, gymnastics, athletics and traditional dancing. In the future, SANAM will also offer children the opportunity to learn crafts such as straw basket-making and pottery, giving them an additional skill for the future.
“We learnt that children have the same rights to healthcare, food, safe water and good education, regardless of their gender or where they come from. Both boys and girls should have the freedom to attend school and play with their friends, and we have the right to be heard, particularly when our parents are making decisions that affect our lives.”
The SANAM team encouraged children to discuss what they had learnt with their families and invited all parents to attend at least one of the training sessions, and they also contacted community leaders to promote their message.
So, what has changed in Mecuburi district, for Henrique, his daughter Belta and their community?
“In the past, our children didn’t talk much about what they’d learnt in school. That has been the biggest change. Now, they want to go to school every day, and they talk to us about what they’ve learnt. As parents, we realised we should make big changes in our lives to enable our children to continue their education.”
Belta ringing the school bell at Ratane Elementary School.
Belta ringing the school bell at Ratane Elementary School.
“Within our community, we’ve also realised that farm work can be dangerous for children. If they accompany us to our cotton field, it’s important that we make sure they don’t touch farming equipment, which is often sharp, or go near pesticide containers.”
As for Belta, her outlook on life has shifted. She and her classmates all reacted positively to the training.
“I go to school every day, and I also have more time to spend with my friends. I’ve even been learning traditional dancing. I occasionally help my parents with farm work, but only with light tasks during the weekend when it doesn’t interfere with my schoolwork. I don't want to get married young, I want an education,” she adds. “My dream is to study so I can get a job as a nurse or a teacher.”
Is It OK for Belta to Help Her Parents on the Farm?
Child labour is work that is mentally, physically, socially, or morally dangerous and harmful to children. It interferes with children's schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school, obliging them to leave school prematurely, or combining school attendance with excessively heavy or hazardous work and long hours. Child labour is reported in many countries where cotton is grown, mostly, though not exclusively, on smallholder farms. BCI considers child labour to be both a symptom and cause of poverty.
A BCI Farmer must ensure there is no child labour on his/her farm, in accordance with the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN specialised agency on work and employment, Convention 138. In the case of family smallholdings, like Henrique and Ana's farm, children may help out on their family’s farm provided that the work is not liable to damage their health, safety, well-being, or development, and the activities must not interfere with their education.
Find out more in the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria (BCI’s definition of Better Cotton and how it should be grown), Principle 6, page 75.
“Initially, I shared my community’s belief that girls should marry young, but now I understand how important it is that Belta continues her schooling. Seeing her eyes light up when she told me about children’s rights to learn confirmed my decision to support her in going to Nampula to continue her education when she finishes elementary school.”
Belta’s 11-year-old friend Fatima is also excited about the future.
“I’d like to continue studying and not hurry to get married. I would like to be a teacher one day,” she enthuses.
Fatima’s father, Joaquim Rafael, who is a BCI 'Lead' Farmer (someone responsible for supporting other BCI Farmers in their community put their learning into action), says:
“I’m working with other BCI Farmers in my community to help them monitor their children’s school attendance and keep any time spent on the farm to a minimum, so it doesn't interfere with school work.”
BCI and SANAM aim to reach 25,000 children — along with their parents — each year with their message of quality education for all. Central to this effort will be communication. SANAM plans to screen the training (classroom teaching and interactive role play) at community meetings across Nampula. Beyond this, SANAM and Nampula’s District Education and Human Development Services aim to create a rural committee to eliminate child labour completely from cotton farming communities, working closely with local school teachers. This will take time, and its progress will depend on both farmers’ ability to improve their yields and profits, and whole families changing the ideas that have shaped their communities for centuries. But the changes already underway in Henrique and Belta’s community provide hope for the future.
Find out more about BCI’s work in Mozambique.