©2008-2018 St. Nicholas Uganda Children's Fund
Uganda: Children Forced to Work
as Poverty, HIV Bite

New Vision (Kampala)
15 June 2008
Maria Wamala, Kampala

EVERY year, on June 16, the Day of the African Child is
held, to commemorate the killing of 100 black students
in South Africa in a protest against poor education. This
year's theme is 'Right to participation: let children be
heard and seen'. But, as Maria Wamala writes, the
situation of children in Uganda is worrying, with
2.7million subjected to hazardous child labour.

It is early in the morning, but 10-year-old Gerald
Balyokweyo is already looking tired, pale and hungry.
Carrying bundles of carrots and tomatoes in his small
hands, he walks from Mengo Kisenyi to Kampala without
breakfast.  Leaning against a wall, Balwokweyo narrates
his experience: "By 7:00am, my brother, Hamza and I
are already in Kampala preparing to sell our
vegetables.  We both go to Hosanna Primary School in
Mengo, Kisenyi. I am in P.2 and Hamza is in P.4. We
wake up before 6:00am. Our mother does not work. She
gives each of us sh10,000 ($5.00) to buy vegetables
and sell them. We give her part of our money to keep
for school fees and use the rest to buy food and
clothes.  During the holiday, we work daily and during
school time we work over the weekends."

Balyokweyo and his brother are only a fraction of the
2.7 million-strong child labour-force in Uganda,
according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. They
work for long hours to get a little money for their
education, food and clothes.  "As I sell tomatoes and
carrots, Hamza sells egg plants, onions and green
pepper. Each pack costs sh500 (25¢) but some people
pay less, while others give us counterfeit money,"
Balyokweyo says.

Balyokweyo wishes he had a better life. "We want to go
to school but our parents are poor, so we have to work,"
he says. "I hate what I do because I walk a lot in the
sun.  Even when it rains, I have nowhere to take shelter
because I don't have a stall," he says. "By the time I go
back home, my body is sticky with sweat and dust, my
head hurts and I am exhausted and hungry. I only eat
kikomando, (chapati and beans) for lunch."

Hamza Ivulabe vends vegetables on the streets.

But his problems do not end there. Sometimes the
money Balyokweyo makes is stolen. He also recounts
the many times Kampala City Council officials chased
him, his brother and other vendors off the streets
because they do not pay taxes.  "KCC takes our things
and until we pay, we cannot get them back,"
Balyokweyo says in a frail voice. "One time I fell in a
ditch and hurt myself as I was running away from them."
Harriet Luyima, the manager of the Child Labour Unit at
the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development
explains that many children work in quarries,
commercial sex, plantations, fishing and domestic work.

At Muyenga quarry, about 100 children between five
and 17 years crush stones to get money for school fees
and clothes. "These children handle dangerous tools
and hurt themselves as they work.  Small pieces of
stone get into their eyes and they get injuries they are
unable to treat and the heavy weights they carry make
them stunted," Luyima says.  "We spend two weeks
crushing a wheelbarrow-full of stones which sells at
Sh2000 ($1.00).  But some customers bargain and we
give them at a lower price," says 11-year-old Mugerwa.  

                    Photo: Jason Beaubien, NPR

Luyima says with 35% of the population living in
absolute poverty, parents are compelled to send their
children to work because they cannot provide for them.  
"However, some parents are irresponsible. They get
drunk and forget the children or even batter them,
forcing them to take to the streets and find work,"
Luyima says.  The secretary general of the National
Council for Children, Joyce Otim-Nape, says working
children are exploited by older people who should
protect them instead.  

The situation is compounded by the loss of parents to
HIV/AIDS. Luyima says most working children have lost
either one or both parents and that there are two million
HIV/AIDS orphans in the country.  "As children are left
alone, child-headed homes come up, forcing children to
work to feed their siblings," Luyima notes. "When
parents fall sick the children are pulled out of school to
look after them. Eventually they drop out of school and
resort to working."

A number of orphans are looked after by grandparents
who, when they get over-burdened, send them to work.
Ten-year-old Nulu Namuleme is one such example. "I
sell sweet bananas. After work, I go home and give the
money to JjaJja to keep for my school fees," she says.  

In an effort to solve this problem, the gender ministry
and the International Labour Organisation are working
on an HIV/AIDS-Induced-Child-Labour policy that
provides for withdrawal and rehabilitation of children
who are forced into labour.  Otim feels this policy is
timely because most working children do not go to
school; they miss out on vital skills and are condemned
to poverty since they cannot get good jobs.  "There is
need to reduce child labour, otherwise the country's
future is at stake. These children are the future
leaders," she says.
Kampala, Uganda
A boy breaks stones into gravel in Kampala.