Face to face with child labour

Many children in Uganda are engaged in domestic service, stone quarrying, brick-making and laying, construction, sand and clay mining, commercial agriculture, charcoal burning, hotels and bars, hunting and commercial fishing, and in the informal sector, and car washing among others

What you need to know:

Evidence of the active move to protect children and end child labour can be seen in the several International Labour Organisation policies and other legislations enacted over the past decade. All this, however, has still not been enough to halt the exploitation of children from the worst forms of child labour.

Eight-year-old *Shalom Nagawa and her six-year-old sister negotiate their way through Namuwongo slum. On their heads, they carry buckets filled with steaming hot boiled maize wrapped in polythene bags.
This is their daily routine occupation done immediately after school. The two are pupils of Valeria Primary School in Namuwongo.
They vend maize and use the proceeds for school fees and other needs at home headed by a grandmother.
“By the time we reach home, jajja (grandmother) has already prepared the maize and she tells us to eat fast such that we vend the maize when it is still early,” Nagawa says.
“We do not get time to read: We just sleep and wake up the next day to go to school,”
The two pupils have to do everything possible to sell the maize but avoid getting arrested by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) officials, thugs grabbing money from them or even being defiled.
KCCA banned hawking of food stuffs over hygiene-related reasons and the enforcement officers will not spare the two girls despite their realistic struggle to survive.
Yellow and green are is the colour of the KCCA uniforms.
And as Nagawa and sister juggle between going to school and selling maize, *Brian Magala dropped out in Primary Six in 2012 and resorted to vending vegetables in the same area.
His hope of becoming an engineer is lost and what takes up his time is earning a daily income that supports the family headed by his mother.
Magala is one of the 700,000 Ugandan children out of school cited in a 2014 report by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation report.
On the other hand, Nagawa and her sister are among the two million children engaged in child labour, according to Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) report, the National Labour Force and Child Activities Survey 2011/12.

What the law says

Many other children in Uganda are engaged in domestic service, stone quarrying, brick-making and laying, construction, sand and clay mining, commercial agriculture, charcoal burning, hotels and bars, hunting and commercial fishing, and in the informal sector, and car washing among others. This is according to the National Action Plan on Elimination Of The Worst Forms Of Child Labour in Uganda 2012/13-2016/17.
Children should not be engaged in such economic activities according to Chapter 1, Article 34 (4) of the Constitution.
The article provides for the protection of a child from dangerous and exploitative work:
“Children are entitled to be protected from social and economic exploitation and shall not be employed in or required to perform work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with their education or to be harmful to their health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development,”
The Children’s Statute No. 16 of 1996 states, in part: “A child has a right not to be made to work or take part in any activity whether for pay or not which is likely to injure the child’s health, education, mental, physical or moral development. For example, all children have to help out in household work, but they must do so according to their age and ability”.
Although Uganda has good laws to protect children, Frederick Ssempala, an elder and educational expert, says they are not well thought out and are inclined to define child labour in the Western context rather than Ugandan or African setting.
Ssempala’s argument is premised on the fact that Africans have children mainly for social protection. When they carry out such duties like fetching water or taking care of animals or even resort to hawking foodstuffs, that qualifies as child labour in the West yet in Africa, it is not.
“Our children are young in the lenses of age but mentally they are prepared to do such jobs,” he says. “We are looking at child labour in the lenses of two worlds ,the developed West and underdeveloped Africa. If you say do not do this, is Uganda able to provide for these children? But in the West, children get free food, medical care and education….”
United Nations (UN) defines child labour as “work that is prohibited for children of certain age groups. It is work performed by children who are under the minimum age legally specified for that kind of work, or work which, because of its detrimental nature or conditions, is considered unacceptable for children and is prohibited.”
Employment Decree 1975 prohibits children below 12 years from being employed and restricts those between 13 and 17 years of age. International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommends the ages of 15-64 years, as ideal for work.
According to Ssempala, if all those children-related policies are implemented, they will subject untold suffering to children instead of helping them.

Marking the day

As Uganda joins the rest of the world to mark World Day Against Child Labour in Hoima District today, Pius Bigirimana, Gender and Labour ministry Permanent Secretary, says such policies and laws are well intended and they are being implemented.
“No child should be in hazardous labour. We will continue to discourage it,” Bigirimana he says.
“We are currently working with the ministry of education to ensure that children stay in school and Gender is working on a comprehensive social protection framework,”
The theme according to the UN resonates with the need for “free, compulsory and quality education for all children at least to the minimum age for admission to employment and action to reach those presently in child labour; New efforts to ensure that national policies on child labour and education are consistent and effective; Policies that ensure access to quality education and investment in the teaching profession.”
Tracking Uganda’s progress
Dr Yusuf Nsubuga, director Basic and Secondary Education in Ministry of Education and Sports, says reducing child labour gained momentum when government made a commitment by introducing Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 1997.
Since then, he says the numbers of pupils who would be in farms were enrolled in school.
Dr Nsubuga cites factors like availing more books and teachers in schools; sanitation programmes for girls are other measures to retain students in school thus reducing child labour.
But he warns: “Policies alone cannot retain children in school. Parents, teachers, children and the community must do their part.
World Health Organisation highlights “skin disease to asthma to (in the worst case) fatal injuries as the some of the effects of child labour.
Others can be mental and behavioural problems. WHO estimates that nearly 250 million children, translating into one in six children are involved in child labour. Of the 250 million children, 111 million children under 15 are in hazardous occupations and the majority is in rural areas.

More care homes spring up

A new report has revealed that the number of childcare institutions have more than doubled in the past decade owing to the rise in child homelessness in the country.
The study, Strong Beginnings – A Family for all Children, reviewed Child Care Institutions (CCIs) in the three districts (Kampala, Jinja and Wakiso) and assesses the wellbeing of children living in those institutions.
It revealed that of 29 CCIS were covered: 27 institutions were privately owned, while two CCIs were under the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development.
“There is a high number of children living on the streets of Kampala and other urban areas of Uganda. Some of these children end up on the streets after fleeing from domestic violence and neglect in their homes (step parents are in most cases the perpetrators),” says Fikru Abebe, country director, Plan International Uganda
“Others are trafficked from regions like Karamoja and are economically exploited. There are children who are homeless because they are orphans of parents who have passed away because of HIV/Aids. Infants are sometimes found in sewers and garbage bins.”
It revealed that about 62 per cent of the private CCIs (18 of 27) had been established in the past 10 years; 10 of these were established less than five years ago.
The two government institutions—Kampiringisa National Rehabilitation Centre (KNRC), which accommodates most street children and Naguru Reception Centre (NRC), which deals with abandoned children were established in 1952 and 1959 respectively.
The oldest private CCI, Sanyu Babies’ Home and Nsambya Babies’ Home (Kampala), were established in 1929 and 1966 respectively.
These homes are not just increasing, yet the population within is high and the capacity of the homes to care for these children is diminishing fast,” said Miriam Ahumuza, the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) information officer said.
Majority of the children are between the ages of four and 14 years (55 per cent); 28 per cent of the children are less than three years old. Most of them are former street children, orphans or victims of child abuse.
Material poverty, rather than lack of caregivers was cited as the main reason for the rising number of child placement in these institutions.
An earlier study by the ANPPCAN estimated there were 10,000 such children last year, a 70 per cent increase since 1993.
“Then there are some parents who dump their children are either too poor to afford additional expenses or are victims of social stigma because of unplanned pregnancies,” adds Abebe.
“As a result, children grow up missing out on living in a domestic environment with parents to look up to as role models. The limited resources in child care institutions make it difficult to provide these children with quality education, basic health and protection services.”
The report recommended that institutional placements be temporary and or rehabilitative, with effort made to transition the child into family care.
“Government needs to do more in terms of budgetary allocation, and attention to these children. Most of their care is being put in the hands of private actors who are also feeling the pressure,” Ahumuza cautions.
Abebe says the existing child care institutions need to strengthen their coordination mechanisms to rehabilitate and reintegrate children back with their families as much as possible. And for those that don’t have families to go back to, alternatives need to be given such as foster care to avoid being institutionalised for the rest of their lives.
“While in these institutions, focus needs to be put on enabling children fulfilling their rights e.g. provision of quality education and health care services. Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development needs to be allocated adequate resources to enable the ministry coordinate of all government and non-government institutions effectively such that a standardized care package is offered to all children who are homeless for one reason or another,” he says.
“We are currently supporting National Child Helpline (116) action centres to report cases of homeless children and avert the rampant child abuse in the country.”

The National Action Plan on Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour in Uganda 2012/13-2016/17 indicates that working children, ages 5-14. 95.4 of children in ages of 5 to 14 are involved in agriculture 1.5 per cent is employed in industry, 3.1 per cent in services like hotels and bars34.4 per cent combine work and school, while the primary completion rate is estimated at 53.1 per cent compared to school attendance of 88.7 per cent.