Busia. It is 1pm on a Monday and Nancy Omongin, 12, in the company of other children, is sorting groundnuts at Busia Main Market in Busia District.
Drenched in sweat, the children spend the day winnowing the seeds and packing them into sacks.
Mr Abubaker Kironde, a business man at Busia Main Market, says the girls are not provided with meals by their employers.
“They work from morning until evening without any food. They are only allowed to take leftovers of the groundnuts, which they pick and also sell,” Mr Kironde says.
They are among the hundreds of children trafficked to the border district to engage in commercial labour.
Mr Raphael Orono Osacha, the district probation officer, says majority of the children are trafficked from Moroto, Nakapiripirit and Kotido districts in Karamoja Sub-region.
“The children carry sacks, sort cereals while others work as house helps,” Mr Orono says.
“We have many cases of child labour and several are not documented. We have reports of children who are trafficked to Kenya to work as house helps and others as attendants in restaurants, bars and lodges,” he adds.
Mr Orono also says other children from Buteba and Busitema sub-counties, among other areas, have also dropped out of school to engage in mining and fishing.
“Several are engaged in gold mining in Tiira, Amonikakinei, Mawero and Syanyonja. We have tried [to stop them] but our efforts are not yielding results,” he says.
Mr Orono attributes the increasing cases of child labour to poverty, ignorance, domestic violence and failure by parents to value education.
“Some children are forced by their parents to work in the mines because they expect them to get money and support the family,” he says.
Mr Semu Okumu, the manager of Busia Area Communities’ Federation, a child-based organisation, says children in gold mines are at a risk of being exposed to harmful effects of mercury, a mineral used in the purification process.
“Some children have died inside the mines due to soil slump,” he says, adding that there are reports of others drowning in areas of Majanji and Busime while fishing.
Rev Barnabas Muniala, the district education officer, says the rampant cases of child labour have resulted in high rate of school dropout and poor academic performance, especially in Majanji, Busime, Buteba and Busitema sub-counties.
Mr David Walukhu, the speaker for Western Division in Busia Town, blames parents and child-based organisations of failing to address the problem.
“Parents have failed to provide for their children, that is why their daughters and sons end up in child labour, and NGOs have not done much apart from talking,” he said.
Mr Walukhu urges government and the NGOs to construct a centre to look after homeless children.
Mr Geoffrey Wandera, the district chairperson, says they recently passed a child protection ordinance to fight child labour.
“We hope that once law is gazetted, the district will be in position to embark on enforcement,” Mr Wandera says.
The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development says there are many policies to address child labour but implementation remains a challenge. A 2011/2012 survey by Uganda Bureau of Statistics’ national labour force and child activities found that more than two million children are engaged in child labour.
In 2016, government introduced the Children Amendment Act that criminalises child labour although it has failed to stop their exploitation due to inadequate implementation. According to the 2014, national population census report 99,217 children in Busia were involved in child labour, with 24,919 of the children aged between 10 and 17 years.