Others labour in stone quarries under the scorching afternoon sun for Sh1000 a day. At building sites boys carry loads their weight as girls toil away in gardens during school days.
Their counterparts hawk foodstuffs for miles in Kampala’s spread-out suburbs.
If we can spare a moment to look, child labourers are all around us; that’s why we ask no questions when a twelve-year-old sells us steamed maize in the confines of our homes.
Although it is 2015, child labour is increasing rather than reducing.
Child labour refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives them of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful.
“Four years ago, child labour stood at 1.4 million children; but now, according to latest statistics, has increased to 2.7 million,” says Arinaitwe Isaac, Programme Officer Advocacy & Community Development at Platform for Labour Action (PLA).
“A child is easily manipulated to be paid less, late, and sometimes not paid at all; hence many employers prefer them to adults, especially using them for domestic work,” explains Arinaitwe adding that one of the highest causes for increased child labour is the luck of deliberate efforts to mitigate it.
He points out the fact that we don’t see people being arrested, questioned or jailed in this regard.
In spite of UPE and USE, 2.75 million child labourers don’t go to school. He argues that the same children could be in school curving out a decent future for them, and being more productive and benefitting the country more as tax-paying educated adults.
“This kind of work is meant for adults therefore strenuous for the children, which is why most of the children we have rescued complain of physical pain.”
What the law says
The employment act declares that all children should be protected from child labour; the constitution itself says children shouldn’t be exploited economically, and the National Child Labour Policy echoes the same.
A child 12 years and below should never at any one moment get involved in child labour and each child should have six years of compulsory education.
Children 14 years and above who are working should not have their participation in school affected, should have enough time to play with fellow children, and only work under supervision from an adult.
Also their work should be light, and if it is labour, they should be rewarded for it.
If you illegally transport someone with the purpose of exploitation, it is considered trafficking, according to the Trafficking Persons Act. One of the penalties for child trafficking is death, or a lot of money in fines.
Rescuing child labourers
PLA, a human rights organisation advocating for rights of vulnerable and marginalised workers who among them include children offers a lifeline.
“The first thing we do is raise awareness doing community sensitisation,” says Grace Mukwaya Lule, Assistant Executive Director PLA adding. “It is progressive elimination of child exploitation that involves rescuing, rehabilitation, and putting the really young ones in schools while the older ones are equipped with skills.”
Some of the places they have been to, are divisions of Kampala most recently Makindye and Kawempe.
They also have had activities in Wakiso, Mukono, and Lira, among others.
“We visit communities which we know are prone to child labour; for example markets, where we get people to talk to and train a few to help enforce awareness.”
“They are very handy in identifying cases of child labour in their communities; the child working in the bar, the maid mistreated in a home, and the parents exploiting a child.”
“We usually start with a dialogue; talk to employers, contact the parents, sometimes take the children out of the situations, offer legal aid, or take them back to school; depending on the situation.”