NWOYA- Last month, Nwoya District officials suspended the operation of two commercial farms in the district over recruitment of child labour.
But, a month later, Daily Monitor revisited one of the farms and discovered that it was operating with children employed as labourers.
The suspension followed a council meeting held at the district hall in which a section of councillors disclosed reports of abuse of children coupled with poor working condition during their impromptu visit to the farms.
The farms, whose operations were suspended are Vineyak Agro Farm Ltd and Rigil Agrotech Ltd, all Indian-owned commercial farms located in Leb Ngec and Nyamokino parishes, Lungulu Sub-county respectively.
When Daily Monitor visited Rigil Agrotech Ltd that specialises in Sunflower and cotton growing, on Wednesday afternoon, we found five boys and a girl seated on a veranda of a grass-thatched hut, lost in thought.
About 10 metres away, Harriet Akanyo, (not her real name), one of the child labourers at the farm, held her forehead with one hand, seemingly in a pensive mood.
The Primary Six drop out from Alaka Memorial Primary School and resident of Jingcwinyi Village in Alebtong District, was brought to the farm in January.
“People came and convinced my parents that I was going to be collecting eggs at the farm, my parents accepted because they could not continue to support my school fees. But when I started working, I was sent to pick cotton and sometimes sunflowers,” she said.
Akanyo added: “I have spent three days now without eating a proper meal. I haven’t been given any assignment on the farm for the last three day.”
She said her work was terminated because she could not pick 30 kilogrammes of cotton as required daily.
Stuck on the farm
Akanyo said since they terminated her work, she has been stuck at the farm since her March salary that would have helped her to travel back home has not been paid.
Morris Odong, 15, and his brother James Obalo, 17, (not real names) are another group of child labourers, who were chased away by their supervisors from the farm a month ago without being provided any transport fare.
The duo were recruited from Adwogonono Village in Amwoma Sub-county, Dokolo District, with a promise of being paid Shs6,000 daily.
Odong said they were also chased away after being accused of failing to pick the required 30 kilogrammes of cotton.
Odong and his brother were later forced to flee into the host community in Lebngec where they are providing labour on farms in return for food and clothing.
“We are now living with a man who is a farmer, he pays us Shs80,000 which is not even timely. But we are grateful that at least we eat decently,” he said.
Mr Ramadan Ssekitoleko, an engineer at Rigil Agrotech Ltd, said they had not paid some of the workers because they had financial challenges but promised that they would be paid at the month.
Mr Chandan Kumar, the commercial manager at the farm, noted that they do not employ children on their farm and said the allegations are made to tarnish the image of the farm. He said they have always followed the right channels to recruit labourers on the farm, including engaging local leaders, parents of the workers, police and other stake holders.
District to investigate
Mr Frederick Okecha, the Purongo Sub-county district councillor, said they would investigate whether children were still being employed at the commercial farm.
Ms Barbara Apio Odongo, the programme officer of child protection and child rights governance department at Save the Children Organisation, on Tuesday said they have so far been able to trace 23 children who were employed within the farms in Lungulu.
Ms Odongo said reports they got from local leaders indicate that a total of 35 children, who are alleged to have been employed at Rigil farm, keep wandering within the communities of Lungulu.
Mr Patrick Okello Oryema, the Nwoya District chairperson, said they are proposing a regional meeting with leaders from other districts to solve the crisis.
“Nwoya just like others districts in the country doesn’t tolerate child labour. We shall take steps towards closing down these farms once our investigation are done,” he added.
He revealed that the district is currently carrying out a labour audit that will give them clear steps to close any of the farms found culpable.
Efforts to get comments from the State minister for Northern Uganda, Ms Grace Freedom Kwiyucwiny, and the minister of State for Youth and Children Affairs, Ms Florence Nakiwala, were futile.
There are more than 30 large scale commercial farms in various parts of Nwoya.
According to statistics from the Nwoya, it is estimated that 600 children from various parts of the country work as casual labourers in the district.
A 2018 report published by Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations indicates that child labourers in agriculture worldwide has increased from 98 million to 108 million since 2012.