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This book is about how work enters and affects the lives of children in Africa, taking for granted neither the traditional values surrounding children’s work, nor the international standards against it. Many African societies nurture their children on the ingrained notion that children must work as part of their process of growing up. Children participate in their families and communities through the work they do in the house and in whatever else their families do. Such views are, however, antithetical to the dominant views in Europe and North America which see childhood as a time of freedom from responsibility and economic activity. These views have become so popular with the elites in other countries to the extent that they now drive international campaigns against ‘child labour’, and have been incorporated into what are now considered universal international standards and conventions. This book was conceived within the framework of the CODESRIA tradition of taking African perspectives seriously and not allowing social research in Africa to become subservient to values from outside. African scholars remain keenly aware of the need not to isolate themselves from developments in the wider world, which could lead to stagnation. This book, through empirical observation of the lives of African children, the work they do, its place in their lives, and what the children say about it, proposes new perspectives towards a new understanding of this complex stage of human development. Work is not simply about the right to income: work provides identity and status in society, and participation in the community. People relate to one another through work. Those who do not work are often without status and are at the periphery of society. One of the major ways in which this book differs from most of the available literature is in the understanding it brings to the problem of ‘child labour’. There are economic reasons why children may need an income of their own. There is the demographic fact that the proportion of children to adults in low-income countries is nearly double that in high-income societies. This book attempts to demonstrate that work is both necessary and beneficial in terms of a child’s development to become a full, responsible, and respectable member of society.
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