MALINDI fish market in Zanzibar's Stone Town is a bustle of economic activity, but the prospect of a quick buck attracts too many children who should be in school, say activists.
"The children want to go to school but they have to [work to] support their parents," Mubarak Maman, Zanzibar Programme Manager for Save the Children, said.
In the market, they are mostly seen serving tea or selling snacks in the morning and early afternoon when the fishermen arrive with the day's catch.
The situation is replicated across East Africa's spice islands. Despite a global reputation as a major tourist destination, the semi-autonomous Zanzibar islands are poor - fuelling child labour and exploitation.
"When you go to Pemba [one of Zanzibar's constituent islands], there is a large number of children involved in fishing and rock-breaking for gravel," Maman said. "The parents say they cannot afford to send the children to school."
However, according to a 2001 assessment by the International Labour Organization (ILO), children in Zanzibar face a tougher time working in clove plantations and seaweed farms, as well as in the hotel and tourism sector. Many are also engaged in child prostitution.
More than 100,000 children between the ages of five and 17 are employed in Zanzibar, according to a 2006 government survey.
Hamza, 15, a juice seller for a year, said he works six hours daily, earning about 7,000 Tanzanian shillings (US$5), most of which goes to his older brother. The remainder is sent off to his parents on the mainland.
"My parents are poor, they could not afford to keep me in school," he said, adding that he would like to return to school. "I am afraid that if I ask my brother to take me back to school he may send me back home to my parents."
Basic education in Zanzibar is compulsory for 10 years - six years of primary and four of secondary school - but there are no legal provisions for enforcement. There are also other costs, such as uniforms, which lock out the poor.
The perception of low returns on education means parents and children value short-term gains from child labour at the expense of education, according to Zanzibar's 2009-2015 National Action Plan (NAP) for the elimination of child labour.
"For the majority of children who do not go beyond Basic Education, the prospects for gainful employment are minimal," it stated. This contributes to low demand for schooling and high drop-out rates.
Maman of Save the Children said it was not easy to draw a line between working children and domestic labour. "This is because some of the children work and then go to school; others are not working but are in exploitative situations," he explained.
Some residents also consider it a form of training for the children to take on future roles, such as fishing.
Fatma Rashid, a liaison officer with ILO in Zanzibar, said that while child labour was a big problem, community awareness about its effects was low.
"We use mass media for awareness, conduct seminars... we invite parents and shehas [community leaders] to go back and educate others," said Rashid.
ILO is developing a school curriculum so that children in schools are aware of the issues, she said.
According to the NAP, weak implementation capacity and lack of coordination among agencies, together with poor awareness of child rights and weak enforcement of laws and regulations, need to be addressed.
The application of labour laws mainly in the formal sectors has left informal and traditional sectors - the main employers of children - unregulated.
The NAP expects to address these issues and undertake a review of the school curriculum to enhance relevance in addressing local community needs with a view to improving enrollment and retention.
A child labour steering committee, comprising officials from relevant agencies, will provide implementation guidance.
"The child protection issue is overlapping; it is the responsibility of many departments. There is a need for national coordination among the various actors as well as awareness-raising to encourage people to report cases of child abuse," said Maman.
"There should be a legal framework to make it mandatory to report for whoever comes across such a case."
Asha Aboud Mzee of the NGO, Catalyst Organization for Women Progress in Zanzibar, said women should be involved. "If something happens, they [the women] do not know where to report," she said.