By Alex Asiimwe
On 12th June 2020, Uganda joined the rest of the world to commemorate the World Day against Child Labour.
The World Day against Child Labour was launched by the International Organization (ILO) in 2002, with the intention of spreading the message that child labour remains a serious problem and that we must do more to combat it.
In Uganda, the Report of the National Labour Force Survey 2016/17 published by Uganda Bureau of Statistics showed that: about 550,000 children aged 14-17 years were in hazardous child labour; about 476,000 children aged 12-13 years were in child labour, and 1,031,000 children aged 5-11 years were in child labour
In total, therefore, about 2,057,000 children out of the population of 13,616,000 of children aged 5-17 years were in child labour. The high prevalence of child labour in Uganda as demonstrated by the statistics above calls for continued national efforts against child labour. This is because child labour limits the physical, psychological and moral well-being of children.
We must, therefore, use the commemoration of the World Day Against Child Labour as an occasion to catalyse national and global efforts against child labour. This year’s theme is “COVID-19: Protect Children from Child Labour, Now More Than Ever!”
The theme was chosen to highlight the fact that the COVID-19 health pandemic and the resulting economic and labour market shocks increase the risk of children to getting into child labour as a coping mechanism.
The theme is also a reminder to the government, workers’ and employers’ organisations to take measures to reduce the risk of children sliding into child labour.
Indeed, the Government has taken a number of measures under the leadership of the President to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on children.
The starting point of protection of children rights is the protection of their life. As a result, the President closed all schools in order to avoid the transmission of COVID-19 to children.
The children who are most susceptible to child labour are children from low-income households especially those who parents earn their family food from daily income. It is such families who were, therefore, more affected by the economic effects of the lockdown.
With daily income lost because of the lockdown, children from low-income households especially in urban and peri-urban areas were more at risk of getting into child labour in search for income for food.
Idleness is also a common driver of children into child labour. In order to ensure that children are engaged at home, the government has introduced a home learning programme delivered through the media and direct distribution of learning materials to households.
Apart from the COVID-19 specific interventions against child labour, the government has taken other legal and policy measures to eliminate child labour in Uganda.
The legal measures include Ratification of ILO Conventions, No. 182 on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention and ILO, No.138 on Minimum Age; and No. 105 on Abolition of Forced Labour Convention.
In addition, the government has also formulated the National Employment Policy, 2011; the National Child Labour Policy, 2006; the National Action Plan (NAP) on the Elimination of Child Labour 2017/18-2021/22.
Given that children from low-income households are the most vulnerable to child labour and other socio-economic challenges, the Government is currently implementing a number of poverty alleviation interventions which include: Operation Wealth Creation, Disability Grant, Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme and Youth Livelihood Programme, among others.
The elimination of child labour, therefore, calls for collective efforts all of the stakeholders including parents and the community. The war against child labour is not a war against all child work but work that compromises the physical, mental and moral development of a child.
Children should only engage in work that is commensurate with their age as well as physical and psychological development.
The Writer is a Commissioner Labour, Industrial Relations & Productivity, Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development