Child labour and education in pastoralist communities in South Sudan

This study aims at developing an in–depth understanding of the child labour phenomenon in selected pastoralist communities with the aim of informing the formulation and/or revision of public policies and programmes on education and child labour elimination.

Cattle culture and cattle camps play a significant role among many tribes in South Sudan, as the country boasts one of the largest livestock herding populations in Africa, and understanding the dynamics and inner workings of the cattle camps can help to better inform and foster inclusion for the development of this new nation. Youth —both within the 5-13 year age range considered below the minimum age for admission to employment,  and between the ages of 14-17 — are highly utilized among these communities in the daily workings of the cattle camp, highly challenging the notions of child labour as established by the International Labour Organisation’s fundamental conventions on child labour.
By integrating themselves into camp life, researchers have been able to gain grassroots experience among these cattle communities with regards to work and the roles of youth in the camps, the value placed on education, and the dangers and hazards for children associated with life in the cattle camps. Researchers noted deep seated cultural tendencies among the herding communities visited in which more value is placed on work experience versus traditional education, and age and bride price dictate much of decisions surrounding a child’s upbringing.

Children were found to face many hazards at the camp, including danger from cattle and wildlife as well as neighbouring tribes; many youth displayed scars and burn marks from incidences with cattle and close proximity to fires at the camps. Further, exposure to animal borne diseases and cattle excreta leave children and youth vulnerable to a myriad of health issues that are difficult to delineate from labour or general camp life. Interestingly, it was found that parents often send their children to work in camps during times of scarcity to increase access to food, yet are often unaware of the risks and hazards associated with life in the cattle camps and labour at such a young age.

Though views are said to be changing, formal education does not take precedence to work in the cattle camps and the value placed on young brides with regards to bride price. Researchers found that many parents did not recognize the value in formal education, feeling that the life lessons learned from work in the cattle camps is invaluable and can supplement schooling. Attending school was identified as delaying marriage among girls, or leaving girls unmonitored, and therefore lowering bride price;  it also is seen as postponing dowry payments and therefore prohibiting sons (who are often dependent on this cattle gift to award the family of their own bride) and younger children from marrying in a timely manner (as traditionally, children marry in order of age). The value of female education is somewhat unknown, and sons—after participating in initiation rituals—view themselves as no longer needing to attend a rigid system (where they are not necessarily treated as adults).

Researchers found that this traditional and negative perspective towards education had begun to change as tribes have begun to recognize the value of political participation and representation—necessitating the education of youth to afford them the opportunity to run for political office—as well as market participation in times of scarcity where entrepreneurial skills can benefit the camp as a whole through the ability to generate income to mitigate food insecurity.

Based on these sentiments, and the in–depth research conducted and presented in the proceeding document, the following summarized list of recommendations can be made:
  • develop and implement a multi–staged information campaign aimed at a gradual shift in public perception around the question of what the limitations should be on the working activities which children engage to support their families;
  • sensitization on the value of formal education can help to challenge and better inform the notions that the experience in cattle camps can supplement children and youth attending schools;
  • increased availability of the Pastoralist Education Programme (PEP) can help expose both youth and adults in the cattle camps to the value of formal education, while working in the parameters of the cultural context of these communities;
  • incorporation of law and politics classes in the PEP curriculum available to older students to promote continued enrolment, as the prospect of civic engagement and political participation was a paramount reason for attending school, as tribes desire similar representation to that of their neighbours and other conflicting tribes;
  • the availability of female empowerment trainings as well as fostering the formation of female–centred youth groups to help educate young girls and their parents on the value of female education, the benefits to avoiding early marriage and the roles of females as decision makers in the community;
  • continued encouragement for and development of Youth Associations within herding communities, which have thus far been successful in promoting peace between inter–tribal youth to reduce cattle raids—and in turn lessen the mental stress that accompanies feeling vulnerable to raids and conflicts in the camps;
  • increased access to water, through the construction of protected boreholes and wells can help ease the work of children in hauling water, and lessen the need for more bodies around camps to satisfy the water needs of cattle;
  • trainings on water purification and WASH sensitization—particularly the value of soap and hand washing—can help mitigate the instances of illness among children and youth caused by their close proximity to livestock and faeces.