Coronavirus (Covid-19): Latest updates and information
Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Term 1 Week 7: 'Invisible Hands': Children and Labour

This week we will examine the relationship between children and work in the region. Children's labour was ubiquitous across southern Africa during the C19th and C20th and yet these workers remain largely excluded from labour history writing. We will examine the reasons for this, the racialisation and gendering of child labour and the importance of children's work in colonial settings. We will also consider contemporary efforts to eradicate child labour in the region, including examination of NGO campaigning around children's rights.

Core Reading

Beverly Grier, ‘Child Labour and Africanist Scholarship: A Critical Overview’, African Studies Review, 47 (2004), pp. 1-25.

W. Beinart, ‘Transkeian Migrant Workers and Youth Labour on the Natal Sugar Estates 1918-1948’, The Journal of African History, 32 (1991), pp. 41-63.

W. Chirwa, ‘Child and Youth Labour on the Nyasaland Plantations, 1890-1953’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 19 (1993), pp. 662-80.

Hepburn, Sacha, 'Girlhood, Domestic Service and Perceptions of Child Labor in Zambia, c. 1980-2010', Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, 12, 3 (2019), pp. 434-451.

Find and read a report on child labour in southern Africa produced recently by an international organisation. Some examples are included in the further reading list below. You might also look at work by UNICEF, Save the Children and the International Labour Organisation.

Seminar Questions

1. What types of labour have children and youth performed in southern African societies?

2. How did race, gender and age intersect in children and youth's experiences of work in the region?

3. How did children's labour contribute to colonial economies in the region?

4. How have international organisations sought to intervene in child labour practices in the region and have such interventions been effective? Discuss in relation to one or more organisations or campaigns.

Primary Sources

Extracts from colonial government files on child labour in Northern Rhodesia: National Archives of Zambia MLSS1/17/014 Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Ordinance 1949-59 and National Archives of Zambia MLSS1/13/013 Employment of Children 1958-59

Bond, V., C. Chiiya, M. Chonta, and S. Clay with J. Hunleth, L. Kiss and C. Zimmerman, Sweeping the Bedroom: Children in Domestic Work in Zambia (UNICEF: Lusaka, 2011).

UNICEF campaigning against child labour in Africa and worldwide: webpage and further resources.

Further Reading

Gough, K., ‘“Moving Around”: The Social and Spatial Mobility of Youth in Lusaka’, Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 90 (2008), pp. 243-255.

Grier, B., Invisible Hands: Child Labour and the State in Colonial Zimbabwe (Portsmouth NH, 2006).

Hansen, K. T., ‘Labor Migration and Urban Child Labor during the Colonial Period in Zambia’, in Bruce Fetter (ed.), Demography from Scanty Evidence: Central Africa in the Colonial Era (Boulder CO, 1990), pp. 219-234.

Hansen, K. T., ‘Stuck in the Compound: Some Odds against Social Adulthood in Lusaka, Zambia’, Africa Today, 51 (2005), pp. 3-16.

Hashim, I., and D. Thorsen, Child Migration in Africa (London, 2002).

Hepburn, Sacha, 'Bringing a Girl from the Village: Gender, Child Migration and Domestic Service in Post-Colonial Zambia', in Marie Rodet and Elodie Razy (eds), Children on the Move in Africa: Past and Present Experiences of Migration (Woodbridge: James Currey, 2016), pp. 69-84.

Razy, E., and M. Rodet (eds), Children on the Move in Africa: Past and Present Experiences of Migration (Woodbridge, 2016).

Critical studies of development from across the continent

Felicitas Becker, The Politics of Poverty: Policy-Making and Development in Rural Tanzania (Cambridge, 2019).

Harri Englund, Prisoners of Freedom: Human Rights and the African Poor (University of California Press, 2006).

Gregory Mann, From Empires to NGOs in the West African Sahel: the Road to Nongovernmentality (Cambridge, 2015).

Benedetta Rossi, From Slavery to Aid: Politics, Labour, and Ecology in the Nigerien Sahel, 1800-2000 (Cambridge, 2015).

Thomas Yarrow, Development beyond Politics: Aid, Activism and NGOs in Ghana (2011).