A Zimbabwean non-governmental organization is working with local communities to eradicate rising child labor in the country, managing through a recent pilot project to remove some 350 children from the fields back into the classroom.
In an effort to promote what it calls child labor free zones, the Coalition Against Child Labor in Zimbabwe, says it has placed affected children in "bridge schools" where they are housed temporarily.
The children receive psycho-social support and screening tests before being placed in various academic programs.
National coordinator Pascal Masocha told VOA a 2007 survey identified Masvingo province as the worst affected, prompting them to set up a pilot project in Chiredzi district.
His organization hopes to have 1,000 children in the district back in school in the next three years.
The International Labor Organization defines child labor as work that is mentally, physically, socially and or morally harmful to children and interferes with their schooling.
In Zimbabwe children work as street vendors or laborers on tobacco farms, tea and sugar plantations as well as mines.
According to a 2010 United Nations Children Fund report, 13 percent of Zimbabwean children are engaged in child labor, and of the country's 1.3 million orphans, some 100,000 are living on their own in child-headed households.
The exploitation occurs despite a number of legal safeguards. Zimbabwe’s Labor Act prohibits employers from hiring children under 18 to perform hazardous work, and the Children's Act makes it an offense to exploit minors through employment.
However, many are questioning the definition of child labor in relation to traditional and modern ways of living.
Others blame the socio-economic crisis in the country for worsening the plight of children. Increased poverty, political violence and the HIV and AIDS pandemic have worsened the plight of Zimbabwean children.
"Child work is work that is carried out by children as part of their socialization process, like cooking, making the beds, sweeping the yard, doing gardening, while they still have time to do their school work and play with other kids," said Masocha.
He said this is different from child labor which is exploitative, as it destroys the child emotionally and psychologically, killing the child's chances for getting an education.
Labor expert Davies Ndumiso Sibanda said some farmers who grabbed commercial farms during the chaotic land reform process, employ large numbers of child laborers, along with their parents.
"There are orphans who are also used for domestic work because the parents are not available to look after them, also in rural areas where the communities are struggling to make a life," said Sibanda.
VOA reporter Tatenda Gumbo turned to Labor Minister Paurina Gwanyanya-Mpariwa and labor analyst Isaac Mazanhi of the Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe for perspective on these issues.
Gwanyanya-Mpariwa said the government, labor and civic communities are working hard to eradicate the growing problem child labor in the country.