Malawi has the highest incidence of child labour in Southern Africa. 88.9% of children in the age group 5-14 work in the agricultural sector, where tobacco estates are highly represented. The number of children working on tobacco farms in Malawi has been estimated at 78,000 although the actual number is thought to be much higher.
Three districts of Malawi - Lilongwe, Kasungu, and Mzimba - took part in the research of 2007/2008 tobacco growing season. The research aimed at finding out:
- how children experience work on tobacco farms
- children's understanding of why they are involved in tobacco farming
- the impact of the work on children's physical and psychosocial well-being
- children's ideas about what is the best way to make sure they are protected and have access to the rights due to them
- an understanding of how children who have been withdrawn from labour experience and perceive this process and how they explain its impact.
The research study concludes by stating that it is clear from what the children say the main reason they work in the tobacco fields is poverty. This poverty is related to vulnerability as many of orphans and children of single-women-headed households. The study shows that employers are exploiting and abusing children, as a young tobacco worker in Lilongwe district said, "I think at the work they should be giving us enough food, they should be paying us enough and they should be giving us work very much for our age."