She became a keeper of her mother and two brothers when her parents divorced.
Hardship compelled the 14-year-old to become a beggar at Nsipe in Ntcheu.
Levina Levison, a Standard Four pupil at Msangu, often missed classes and spent many hours loitering until she dropped out of school.
“I was at the trading centre in the dead of the night, trying to make enough money for my family,” says the girl.
She used to carry bales of second-hand clothes, bags of Irish potatoes and basketfuls of fruits.
“Begging could not bring much, so I had no time to go to school,” she explains.
She exemplifies how poverty and indifference is pushing pupils into child labour.
Section 23 of the Constitution requires parents to protect children from works that affect them psychologically, mentally and physically.
But there is a thin line between work that prepares children for responsible adulthood and that which endangers their future and health.
Levinia’s mother, Margret Levison, says she did not know her daughter’s work constituted to child labour.
“To us, she was learning to earn money for her own survival,” she says.
International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 182 singles out tobacco farming, herding livestock and prostitution as some of the works not favourable for children aged 14 to 17.
Accordingly, the country has developed an action plan to combat child labour.
Levinia’s removal from the gutters of Nsipe is part of interventions by Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) to guarantee children’s rights.
The union, with funding from ILO through Japanese Tobacco International (JTI), is supporting children rights through education, arts and the media in Ntcheu.
It equips teachers with skills to woo back dropouts and confronting child labour.
Levinia’s absenteeism jolted teachers to track her down at the buzzing trading centre.
“We summoned the girl and her mother to discuss the dangers of child labour and importance of school. Now she is back in school,” says her teacher, Priscilla Chisakasa.
Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) offered her learning materials and the mother got capital for a small-scale business to meet basic needs of the family.
“Some poor parents want children to make money for them, pushing the pupils into child labour which disturbs their future,” says the teacher.
This perpetuates the vicious circle of poverty as every day out of school pushes the child into marginalisation, unemployment and low-paid work.
In Ntcheu, some pupils quit school or miss class to work in tobacco fields.
This is a major cause of massive dropout rates in the district, says Nsipe primary education adviser (PEA) Joyce Ching’oma
To reverse the trend, anti-child labour messages are taught in school and pupils are taught to defend and reclaim their rights.
Even communities are being sensitised to effects of child labour.
Ng’oma says: “Knowledge on forms of child labour hoards learners from what Levinia went through. We encourage communities to ensure children remain in school and not involve them in the vice,”
In the rural locality, Senior Chief Kwataine works with traditional leaders, market committees and law enforcers to ensure trading centres and tobacco fields are free from child labour.
“Parents need to provide needs to their children. Child labour exposes pupils to hazardous environments that deter them from attaining their academic goals,” says Kwataine.
In an interview, TUM secretary general Denis Kalekeni says the learning environment is improving.
“Previously, some teachers were perpetrating child labour and absenteeism through corporal punishments and sexual harassment to female pupils. This forces some pupils to drop out and resort to child labour,” he says.
He reckons that improved school infrastructure as well as dedicated teachers will help the country end child labour.
Ntcheu district labour officer Alfred Geza commends the teachers for reducing the number of child workers.
“They complement our efforts to make parents distinguish acceptable child work from hazardous labour. The initiative has forced tobacco farmers and buyers not to transact on products that involve exploitation of children in the area,” he says.
Ntcheu district education management information systems officer Godfrey Kambankadzanja says teachers are vital in the fight against child labour.
“They are the ones who notice children missing lessons. Fighting against child labour without backing it up with education is meaningless,” he says.
The initiative also targets 45 primary schools in tobacco-growing districts of Lilongwe and Dowa where child labour cases are rampant.