Malawi Child Pickers ‘Exposed’ to 50 Cigarettes a Day

Bloomberg News

By Paul Richardson

Child tobacco pickers in Malawi, Africa’s biggest producer of the burley variety of the crop, are being exposed to nicotine poisoning equivalent to 50 cigarettes a day, a children’s rights organization said.

At least 78,000 children, some as young as five, work on tobacco estates in the southern African country, Plan International, a Woking, England-based agency said in a report on its Web site today. They work for up to 12 hours a day and are paid as little as 1 penny (2 cents) an hour, it said.

“As well as long hours and little pay, children revealed that they suffer physical and sexual abuse from their supervisors, regularly have their pay withheld and are unknowingly blighted by the effects of Green Tobacco Sickness,” the agency said. Symptoms of Green Tobacco Sickness include nausea, vomiting, headaches, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and breathing difficulties, it said.

The results of the study were drawn from a participatory survey in which 44 children aged between 12 and 18 from three districts in Malawi took part in a series of workshops, the agency said. All of the children had worked full-time on tobacco farms during the 2007-08 season, it said.

Felix Mkumba, chief executive officer of the Tobacco Association of Malawi, said he couldn’t comment on the report as he hadn’t seen it. Henderson Chimoyo, general manager of the country’s Tobacco Control Commission, said in a telephone interview from the capital, Lilongwe, that his organization doesn’t have a policy on child labor.

Malawi relies on sales of the leaf for 60 percent of its export earnings.