By Annah Kamusiime
& Doris M. Kakuru
NANYIDIK- MOROTO: In 2020, Uganda made minimal advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor but the situation is worrying as over two million children are engaged in child labour, according the government statistics.
According to the U.S Department of Labour’s 2020 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor country report, Uganda is doing badly.
“Despite new initiatives to address child labor, Uganda is assessed as having made only minimal advancement because it continued a practice that delays advancement to eliminate child labor,” reveals the report which these authors have accessed.
The report adds a chilling revelation;
“The government failed to prosecute, convict, and sentence public officials who participate in or facilitate the worst forms of child labor, including child trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation and dangerous tasks such as in gold mining.”
The report blames gaps in the legal framework that still persist.
‘I SPEND NINE HOURS, SIX DAYS IN AN UNDERGROUND GOLD PIT’
Selina (not real names) aged 14 years, is one of the children who has been engaged in mining from the time she was 7 years.
She is currently a primary six pupil but would have been in senior one, the first entry level into the country’s secondary school system, had it not been due to COVID-19 disruptions.
But Selina has to wake up daily to go to work at either the stone quarries or gold mines, over 5 kilometers away from her village of Nanyidik in Moroto District.
She lowers her body into what looks like a bottomless pit to look for gold and spends over 9 hours underground, 6 days a week.
Underneath the ground, Selina like many other children is detached from the world.
In our interaction with her, she told us that while underground, all she thinks about is if she would get paid her UGX 3,000 shillings compensation for the day that is not even enough to spend on meeting her personal needs.
“I don’t have the luxury of buying myself a new pair of shoes, or dress or a soda, like those lucky children in Kampala City. Whatever I earn, I have to hand it over to my parents to support other household expenses,” Selina tells us as tears start rolling down her cheeks.
We are emotionally broken and we decide to pause for a moment to comprehend a terrible sight of a child whose hopes and dreams have been shattered at the behest of child labour, a practice in Uganda that doesn’t seem to go away.
“At the end of each day, I am always exhausted. I am now having chest pains and struggling to find some sleep,” she struggles to explain.
We are even more pained by the thought of another child of the same age in a different setting within Uganda who is possibly being trained how to play football or is attending online classes, or in-person coaching at home or taking lessons in playing musical instruments.
In the end, all these children will certainly sit the same national examination and compete for the same opportunities.
All of us have a duty to disassemble and reconstruct this narrative, the lives of Ugandan children matter, and that means every Ugandan child.
This is especially urgent given that over 30 years ago, Uganda ratified the United Nations convention on the Rights of the child (UNCRC) in 1990 committing to protect children from all forms of exploitation.
THE DAMAGE THAT IS CHILD LABOUR
The extensity of child labour’s damage to the children of Uganda is unimaginable. Child labour is not only a gross violation of children’s fundamental rights in every sense of way, it is exploitative, denies them an education and is detrimental to the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of children.
Child labour is a global concern, affecting over 160 million children globally and over 2 million Ugandan children. Due to COVID-19 and the associated measures of managing the pandemic, child labour has skyrocketed and the upsurge continues. Uganda is currently experiencing child labour boom which calls for urgent efforts to act and eradicate child labour
A RAY OF HOPE?
This week, several partners led by the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social development (MGLSD) in collaboration with Work No Child Business (WNCB) coordinated by Hivos and other CSOs like Ecological Christian Organization (ECO) and Nascent Research and Development Organization (NRDO), organized a belated commemoration of the World Day Against Child Labour (WDACL) in Moroto district at Boma grounds.
This year, the theme for the commemoration of the WDACL was “Act Now, End Child Labour.” During the commemoration, the chief guest, RDC Moroto, Mr. James Shilaku, applauded the work and efforts of different stakeholders towards stopping child labour and called for the continued support from various stakeholders.
“I urge all of you stakeholders to come up with programmes that include parents at the centre of ending child labour,” he implored.
He added that there was also an urgent need to construct more schools in the region emphasizing that education should be made compulsory for all school going children and institute a school task force to arrest parents who don’t take children to school.
The Programme coordinator for WNCB, Ms. Juliet Wajega, noted that there is an increase in child labour and high school dropouts and this phenomenon is partly fueled by the global COVID 19 pandemic.
“Nakapiripirit District has communities that have children moving over 30 kilometers to reach the nearest school. This must stop,” she roared.
She urged all districts to institute bylaws and create work plans to support school level systems and make them sustainable.
Molly Namirembe, working with Ecological Christian Organisation, urged stakeholders to focus more on young people because they get recruited as child soldiers and this is a security issue.
STONE QUARRIES TURN INTO HOMES FOR KIDS
In a pre-event organized by Nascent RDO in the communities of Nanyidik village, LC1 Chairman Lomilo Loram, noted that there was an increased number of children working at the stone quarries in his region which they have turned into their homes.
“Continued support and collaboration of more partners fighting to see more children go back to school next year, is urgently needed,” he said.
During the stakeholders’ engagement coordinated by Nascent RDO at Masceto hotel partners agreed on key actions that included; Monitoring and inspection of companies and mining sites, Re-integration of children found in child labour back to their families and offer support to them, Creating synergies between government and civil society organizations (CSO), Economic strengthening of households, Skilling of youth especially the 14-17 who are on optional education, Committees for elimination of child labour right from the ministry to LC1 to be strengthened, and Research and advocacy.
The commemoration of the WDACL was also an opportunity for the partners to disseminate the Uganda National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labour that was launched by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at the beginning of this year. The ministry of Gender pledged full awareness.
“Government has livelihood improvement programs like Operation Wealth Creation which are going to be reaching different communities through the Parish Model which will be crucial at ending child labour,” revealed Mr. Amuriat, a ministry official.
LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE
The fulfillment of the goal anticipated by the NAP II will require efforts of several actors both public and private, communities, households, and individuals young and old.
The Nascent Research and Development Organization (Nascent RDO) is one of those partners who work with communities most hit by child labour in Uganda and seeks to implement innovative solutions to fight child labour while tackling its root causes.
One of the key efforts, these authors have learnt, is the involvement of Nascent RDO in the Accelerating Action for the Elimination of Child Labour in Supply Chains in Africa project (ACCEL).
In Uganda, the program, in collaboration with ILO and the Gender Ministry, focuses on coffee and tea supply chains in seven districts Uganda (Greater Mbale, Central region-Buikwe, Greater Hoima and Kabarole district).
Vulnerable households to diversify and enhance their livelihoods in order to support the education of their children (6-14 years) and skilling of their children (14 – 17 years), will be one critical intervention.
In addition, Nascent RDO in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are piloting an intervention in Moroto and Amudat districts that seeks to address the root causes of child labour through economic strengthening of farming vulnerable households. So far, this program has enabled over 400 households in collaborations with Save the Children, UNATU and EWAD coordinated by Hivos.
It is hoped that the program will continue to enable households to save for business expansion, new businesses and school fees in order to motivate children to re-join school.
If Uganda is going to end child labour by 2025 as the Government of Uganda has pledged being a path finding country, the remaining three years will require concerted and intentional efforts.
The battle against child labour requires several engines notably, existence of well facilitated schools and presence of well-motivated teachers plus a foundation of households with meaningful livelihoods and communities with zero tolerance to harmful social practices, gender inequalities and discrimination.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Annah Kansiime is a social development worker, Phd Researcher and staff of Nascent RDO.
Derrick Ssentumbwe is software engineer and staff of Nascent RDO.
Doris Kakuru is an Associate Professor in Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and a Senior Research Associate/Director at Nascent RDO.