By Hlupekile Nkunika


At sunrise, nine year-old James Banda of Chief Kawaza’s area in Katete district, wakes up and readies himself for a hard day in the field to herd cattle in nearby bushes.


As a young boy, James admires other kids who walk by in the opposite direction going to school. However, the thought of owning a cow in the next two years is enough inspiration to keep him going.


James works as a herder, looking after a bull, two cows and three calves belonging to Mr Miti.


“He told me that he will give me a cow after herding for four years. I started herding cattle when I was seven years old. In two years’ time, I will be a proud owner of cattle and I want to be using it to cultivate fields in the village at a cost so that I can raise money and buy more cattle and become rich just like my boss,” he said.


As the harsh sun scorches on him at noon, like a calf, the nine year old sucks milk from a lactating cow, often times while the calves were doing the same.


“Cattle herding is exciting, at times we ride on the back of the cattle, just like horse riders,” he cheerfully narrated.


James however stated that not all is rosy in the life of a young cattle herder.


“I’m usually joined by fellow cowboys in search for green pasture for the cattle to feed.


We spend hours in the bush regardless of cold weather or scorching sun. Sometimes we are stung by bees or wasps in the course of duty. I learn both good and bad things from my peers. One day we agreed that we should each steal food from our parents’ homes, and I stole a chicken,” he said.


He explained that the idea was for the group of the boys to prepare the food to eat while herding the cattle in the bush.


James explained that with influence from the older herders, he once smoked chamba (Marijuana) while in the bush.


“At times we get to be punished when our cattle stray into other people’s fields. At times we end up being beaten up by the owners of the fields”, he added.


Child cattle herding is among the most common forms of child labour among boys in most rural parts of Eastern Province of Zambia.


The trend is rampant in Chieftainess Kawaza’s area in Katete district.


According to Chieftainess Kawaza, people who own animals in the chiefdom prefer cheap labour and use boys from poor families to usher their animals in nearby bushes.


The traditional leader is concerned that this put the boys at risk of being attacked in case of theft or being bitten by snakes because cattle sherparding is done in the bush.


 “These children are also denied the opportunity to go to school and their parents who are supposed to provide for them and encourage them to go to school don’t seem to care,” she said.


The traditional leader explained that she has been engaging school authorities, village headmen and indunas to address the issue of child cattle herding which she said contributes to child marriages and pregnancies in the chiefdom.


“I sent some 47 village headmen to chief Saili’s area in Chipata to learn from their counterparts on how to reverse the trend. So we issued a directive to all the villages to stop children below the age of 18 from herding cattle,” she said.


Chieftainess Kawaza said no child of school going age is allowed to herd cattle in her chiefdom.


“We will also start punishing the perpetrators of the vice to ensure that the trend is fought, “she said.

But the idea of owning a cow continues to tempt boys into cattle herding and Chieftainess Kawaza intends to offer counselling to the boys to ensure that they are encouraged to go to school as opposed to herding of animals.


In Chief Mbangómbe’s area, the traditional authority has been taking punitive action against perpetrators of the vice.


Julius Banda who is Chief Mbangómbe’s retainer and in charge of gender issues including the fight against child marriages said the lads involved in cattle herding are being withdrawn and taken back to school.


 “The perpetrators are forced to offer cow, goats or whatever the chief deems fit as punishment,” said Mr Phiri.


Mr Phiri said this has led to a downward trend of child cattle herders in the chiefdom.


Meanwhile, Chief Madzimawe of the Ngoni people in Chipata said child cattle herding in his area has reduced following revised by-laws that prohibit people from engaging minors in herding of cattle or any other domestic animal.


However, the traditional leader noted that there are some people in his chiefdom who have defied the by-law and are still engaging school-going children.


“Most of the cases of child cattle herding are situations where a school going child who goes to class at maybe 14 hours is meant to guide cattle before he goes to school though even that is not allowed.


“I know there are some parts of the chiefdom where people employ young boys to look after their animals,” said chief Madzimawe.


He said that each village in the chiefdom has a gender committee which is tasked to handle such issues and noted that the cases are only brought to him if the committee fails to handle it.


Chiefs in some parts of Eastern province have taken up a positive step to stop child cattle herding in their communities.


There is need for other stakeholders to work with traditional leaders to enhance the fight which could have a negative impact on the future of the vulnerable boys from poor communities in the villages…