During your childhood, you could have lived in the painful child labour experience. A good number of us have seen it, be it on our streets with children hawking, the village path with little children carrying heavy Jerri cans of water, young children working in plantations for long hours to the worst forms of child labour where children are engaged in various hazardous activities like mining.
Child labour in Uganda manifests in different communities sometimes hidden underneath the pretext of preparing children for a productive adulthood. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), child labour is defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and dignity and is harmful to their physical or mental development.
As such, we all need to understand, appreciate and promote the concept of light work - work that is not harmful to the child’s health and development and doesn’t affect school attendance and participation.
As Uganda joined the rest of the world to commemorate World Day Against Child Labour on June 12 under the theme: ‘Covid-19: Protect children from child labour, now more than ever!’ We all need to rally behind and protect our children.
The Covid-19 pandemic hits us at a time when Uganda has more than 2,048,000 children aged between five years and 17 years engaged in child labour (Ubos UNHS 2016/17).Additionally Uganda has the second youngest population in the world with 78 per cent being young people less than 30 years old and 49.3 per cent being children less than 15 years (Ubos 2019).
In light of this, the Covid-19 pandemic and its immense impact on health, temporary school closures, rise in adult unemployment and loss of livelihoods could exacerbate child labour numbers in Uganda and steal the promise for a better future for Ugandan children.
School closures as a result of the pandemic has affected routine learning of more than 15 million learners in Uganda. Education remains one of the most effective ways to combat child labour, but in the current situation, several children could be at risk of child labour in various sectors like agriculture where several activities like harvesting and planting are ongoing.
The risk is further compounded by the limited access to virtual learning facilities and enabling home learning environments across the country.
Social cultural norms put young girls at even a higher risk of participation in domestic work for long hours, which may in turn deny them opportunities and time to participate in learning activities/programmes on radios/TVs designed and provided by the Ministry of Education and Sports.
The eminent loss of jobs and livelihood for adults in some of the worst hit sectors due to the pandemic could also likely impact negatively on household incomes. This will directly affect the children as many households could fall into poverty, which is one of the major root causes of child labour in Uganda.
As such, child labour could become a copying mechanism for several households as children are a substituted to complement household income efforts.
Young girls could be more at risk of falling into commercial domestic work, sexual exploitation and early marriages. Additionally, the poverty in households could contribute to a high school dropout rates putting more children at risk of Child Labour.
The question is, how can we rally together to protect children from child labour and achieve our target 8.7 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals? Without doubt, the answers are reflected in the key policy responses that the government has already undertaken through enforcing child labour-related legal and regulatory frameworks, community sensitisation, access to Universal Primary Education and Universal Secondary Education, and most importantly, offering economic stimulants during this tough Covid-19 pandemic.
Nonetheless emphasis on other policy responses like strengthening social protection systems is now vital to cushion households where children are at risk.
Ms Phillo Aryatwijuka is the national project officer-ACCEL Africa.