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New Vision
Uganda: Who Will Save the Children?
<p>Andrew Masinde</p>
April 1, 2013

Children are supposed to be protected and provided for by their parents and caretakers. However, the trend has changed and it is now the little ones providing for the families. There are many factors contributing to this trend, including poverty, high school dropout rates and the growing trends in HIV/AIDS, writes Andrew Masinde.

It is a daily evening routine for 11-year-old Simon Oloa to trek the streets of Kampala in the cold, hawking boiled maize. With the bucket perched on his head, Oloa shivers as he looks for his next customer. The clothes he wears are worn out and dirty.

"I am in P6 and the money from this maize is what my parents use to buy me books, pens and pay some school dues. The remaining is for buying food at home," Oloa says. "This work is very tiresome and I am exposed to a lot of danger. I have to ensure that I sell all the maize and sometimes I work up to midnight, yet I have to walk back to Mutungo where I live. Sometimes when I am selling maize during the holidays, the Kampala Capital City Authority officials grab it, yet when I go home my mother cannot believe what I tell her. Instead, she says I have stolen the money," Oloa laments.

Oloa is not alone. Isaac Kiwalabye sells fi sh bones in one of the slums to raise money to support the family. "My mother buys the bones and packs them for me. I leave school early to go and sell the bones on the streets because it is from these sales that I buy books, uniform, pens and the balance takes care of the family needs," Kiwalabye says.

Dressed in dirty clothes that seem not to have seen water for a long time, Kiwalabye says he walks for over six or seven kilometres a day, but he does it because there is no other option.


Lillian Mugerwa, the executive director of Platform for Labour Action, says children need to be protected from child labour if Uganda is to have a better and healthy future generation.

According to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2000/2001, there were about 2.7 million working children in Uganda at the time. Of these, 54% were between 10 and 14 years old and about a third were younger than 10.

According to the 2009/2010 Uganda National Household Survey report, children aged between five and 11 worked for more than 14 hours in a week; children between 12 and 13 worked for more than 14 hours in a week, while children aged 14 to 17 worked for more than 43 hours in a week.

A 2010/11 household survey by Uganda Bureau of Statistics estimated that 2.75 million children in Uganda are engaged in child labour, 51% (1.4million) of whom are involved in hazardous work.


Article 34 of the Constitution defines a child as a person less than 16 years of age, and states that children have the right to be protected from social and economic exploitation. The Constitution further states that children should not be employed in work that is likely to be hazardous or work that would otherwise endanger their health, their physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development, or that would interfere with their education.

The definition of child labour is derived from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No.138, (1973), on the minimum age of employment; and the ILO Convention No.182, (1999), on the worst forms of child labour. The law states that no child may be employed in hazardous work or work between 7:00pm and 7:00am.

Mugerwa says child labour is increasing greatly due to the rising poverty and the increasing number of parents lost to HIV/AIDS, leaving many children with no choice but to work to survive. Many of these orphans are aged between 10 and 14 years and some are aged between 15 and 17, while some are less than 10 years old. Findings indicate that most of the working children have attended some formal education.

Although this is the case, findings further indicate that one in every five working children had no formal education, meaning that these children have very few options and are prone to exploitation and poor conditions of work.


Children in Uganda are commonly engaged in crop farming and in commercial agriculture, including the production of tea, sugarcane, tobacco, rice, cocoa, vanilla and coffee. They also work in fishing and look after livestock. Some children work for long hours, carry heavy loads and suffer work-related injuries.

In the urban informal sector, children sell small items on the streets and work in shops, garages, bars, restaurants and in brick making and laying.

Grace Mukwaya Lule, the assistant executive director Platform for Labour Action, says many children are trafficked from villages to the towns through 'auntie schemes' under the guise of education. "Instead of children being placed in schools, they end up as domestic workers, living and working in exploitative conditions, an issue that makes them suffer from physical, mental and sexual abuse. They often work up to 73 hours a week," Lule says.

Many of the working children are engaged in domestic duties, with more girls more likely to engage in domestic work than boys. Some children beg, wash cars, scavenge, crush stones or sell small items on the streets. According to the Uganda National Household Survey Report 2009/10, 2.75 million children aged between five and 17 are engaged in economic activities. About 51% (1.4 million) are considered to be in hazardous child labour.

The highest concentrations of working children are in western Uganda at 55.7%, followed by eastern and central Uganda with 53% and 52.1% respectively. Approximately 25.3% of the working children are in Kampala, while 45.4% are found in the northern region.

Mugerwa says child labour manifests itself in various forms and in different sectors, including domestic service, commercial agriculture (tea and sugar plantations), the informal sector, hotels and bars, commercial sexual exploitation, child trafficking, construction, fishing, stone and sand quarrying. She adds that there are many factors that contribute to the numbers of child labourers. They include poverty, high population growth rate, high school drop-out rates, growing trends in HIV/AIDS, vulnerability of children, natural hazards, wars and internal confl icts and the misconception on light work.