Not all children in Uganda are as lucky as their peers who enjoy their childhood. A number of them are deprived of their rights, such as going to school and playing, with the intention of forcing them to work under inhuman conditions where their misery begins with no hope of ending. Much as there are laws banning child labour, children continue to be exploited for cheap labour. This is because authorities, for instance in Wakiso District are unable to implement the laws meant to protect children from being engaged in child labouring.
Child labour is a form of exploitation where children are forced to work, often in hazardous and dangerous conditions, on little or no pay. It is typically employing them in the informal sector, such as in homes or on the street, and can involve long hours and hazardous work. Child labour is a violation of human rights and has been linked to a wide range of negative physical, social, and psychological outcomes for those who are subject to it.
Children are trafficked and willingly migrate to Kampala where they engage in domestic work and begging, sometimes by force, and in commercial sexual exploitation and illicit activities.
In 2015, the Government introduced a bill to align the Children Act with existing laws that relate to child protection. Amidst the policies to eliminate the practice over the years, districts such as Wakiso among the many others unfortunately remain a disgrace to the country due to an increased number of child labourers. Children are forced to work in completely inhumane conditions without adequate food, proper wages, and rest. They are subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
In a few interviews with local leaders of Wakiso District such as Matia Lwanga Bwanika, the Local Council V chairperson and Charles Kiberu, County Chief, they explained that among the factors that lead to child labour include; poverty, lack of social security, the increasing gap between the rich and the poor have adversely affected children more than any other group.
They explained that they have failed to provide universal education, which results in children dropping out of school and entering the labour force.
Children should be protected from such injuries including; general child injuries and abuses such as cuts, burns, lacerations, fractures, tiredness and dizziness, excessive fears and nightmares, sexual abuse, particularly sexual exploitation of girls by adults. The girls should also be protected from rape, prostitution, early and unwanted pregnancy, abortion, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and HIV/AIDS, drugs and alcoholism. This will prevent social, economic, and physical harm, which persists to affect them during their lifetime.
According to the Uganda National Household Survey Report 2009/10 (UNHS 2009/10) 2.75 million children aged 5-17 years are engaged in economic activities. Fifty-one per cent (51 per cent) of them (1.4 million) are considered to be hazardous child labour. The highest concentrations of working children are in Western Uganda at 55.7 per cent; followed by Eastern and Central Uganda at 53 per cent and 52.1 percent respectively. Approximately 25.3 per cent of the working children are in Kampala mostly in Wakiso and lastly, 45.4 per cent are found in the Northern region. Child labour has many forms in which it is portrayed; for example commercial agriculture (tea and Sugar plantations), informal sector (hotels, bars), domestic service, commercial sexual exploitation, child trafficking, fishing, stone and sand quarrying and construction (National Action Plan, 2012/13 – 2016/17).
Government authorities, civil society organizations, locals/parents/caretakers, and leaders need to work together to fight for young children engaged in labour under absurd conditions. They need to be rescued from exploitative working conditions and supported with adequate education to help the next generation. Above all, there is a need to create awareness/ understanding of the problem so that people get to know the consequences of child labour with an aim to create a community free from child exploitation in all forms.
The writer is a Communications Scholar at Makerere University