By Jacquiline Nakandi & Carol Kasujja Adii
The sight of children selling fruits, vegetables, boiled maize and other food items is increasingly becoming common on the streets of Kampala.
They often walk into shopping malls and office buildings in search of buyers. Not all such children can be assumed to be working on their own or living by themselves as heads of their households.
In most cases, there is an adult who gives the children the items with orders to sell them.
During a learning and advocacy event organised at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel by the Nascent Research and Development Organisation (NRDO) Uganda recently, it was revealed that child labour was on the increase in the country. In their report, titled ‘Child Labour in Uganda: Trends and Strategies, NRDO revealed that their research has found that the number of children engaged in labour has taken a sharp rise in Uganda from 2,048,000 in 2018 to 6.2 million children in 2021.
According to the report, the children were aged between five and 17 years. NRDO argued that while child labour reduced among children aged 12-13 years, it has gone up among children aged five to 11 years.
The report further shows that 40.9% of boys are engaged in child labour compared to girls at 30%. It added that 59.8% of the children are found in rural areas, compared to 44.4% in urban areas.
Some of the disturbing figures from the report show that 61.8% of children engaged in child labour are orphans, compared to their counterparts with parents (55.3%).
A total of 55.6% of the children engaged in child labour come from the Karamoja region, followed by Lango at 52.0% with the least affected being Kampala, at 19.4% and Buganda at 26.1%.
“The agriculture sector is responsible for most children engaged in labour. It is estimated at 70% or an equivalent of 112 million children globally. Moreover, this work is harmful to children’s physical, social or psychological well-being,” Barbara Odongo, the programmes manager for social protection at NRDO, said.
The report attributed the increased child labour cases to famine, which she said has propelled parents to send their children to sugarcane plantations in search of food.
Child labour refers to work that is hazardous or exploitative and threatens the health, safety, physical growth and mental development of children.
Article 34(4) of Uganda’s Constitution states: “Children are entitled to be protected from social or 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 UN and the International Labour Organisation forbid child labour in almost the same words.
Speaking during the launch of the report, Betty Amongi, the gender minister, said the low level of industrialisation, poverty, demand for unskilled labour and high cost of education has forced children to go into labour.
“We have identified that in areas where there is high poverty, the parents will use children as unskilled labour to support work that will bring money to the family. Due to the low level of industrialisation, the majority of the work that would be done by machines is done by human beings and children become victims in due process,” Amongi said.
To reduce unskilled labour, the minister observed that the country ought to move towards industrialisation.
“When you have machines doing most of the work, then you reduce unskilled labour and force people to go get skills that can match what is in the employment market,” Amongi said.
“We have to look at areas that can be supported in enforcement, through cultural and religious institutions, such as creating awareness so that people stop using children as unskilled labour,” she said.
During the event, representatives of Ugandan children tasked the government with strengthening the enforcement of laws against child labour and also building more schools.
“The Government and development partners should promote household income-generating activities. The Government should also strengthen orphan support structures,” Vinicius Kaahwa, a 17-year-old, said.