The Prevalence of Child Labor in Uganda
An estimate from the 2005 National Household Survey places the number of child workers aged 7-14 at 2.2 million, or 38.3% of children in that age group. This includes 1.4 million children under the age of 12, and 735,000 children under the age of 10.
Child labor is defined in the Ugandan National Child Labor Policy as work that is hazardous or exploitative and threatens the health, safety, physical growth and mental development of children. Even where the hazards are not immediately obvious such as cuts/disease exposure, they could include increased exposure to sexual, physical, or emotional abuse.
Although it is illegal under both International and Ugandan laws to employ persons below the age of 18 in hazardous activities, there is little enforcement due to lack of government resources, and arguably a tolerant attitude towards child labor in many communities.
The Importance of Eliminating Child Labor
Child labor denies children many of their human rights, including the right to education, to rest and leisure, and to be free from economic exploitation. These rights are enshrined in international conventions including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified by Uganda in 1990), the International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ratified in Uganda in 1987), and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
Labor also competes directly with going to school. Although Uganda’s progress in increasing rates of primary enrolment is substantial compared to other sub-Saharan neighbors, the primary completion rate is still much lower than desired, with only 49% of pupils finishing primary school in 2005. In this way, even when children are not directly harmed through their employment, they are nonetheless denied the opportunity to build skills to secure future employment.
By obstructing the development of human capital, child labor is directly impeding Uganda’s long-term economic growth, and ultimately consigning millions of Ugandans to continued poverty.
Causes of Child Labor in Uganda
Poverty is the main driver of child labor, not only in Uganda but most developing countries. Other factors which contribute to the problem include:
- Social and economic disruption due to the loss of a parent, either to death or abandonment. For children aged 6 – 17, up to 20% have lost at least one of their parents due to HIV and conflict. This results in a greater burden on extended relatives, who often are already struggling to feed and educate their biological children. In some cases, orphaned children have no relatives to assist, and head the household themselves, often providing for younger siblings.
- Large family size, in cases where parents are unable to provide for every child.
- The cost of attending school. Although the government claims to provide Universal Primary Education for free, families are still need to cover school ‘development’ fees, supplies such as notebooks, and uniforms. These costs are too high for the many Ugandans living below the poverty line.
- The acceptance of child labor as ‘normal’ by many community members.
- The failure of parents/guardians to see the value in educating their children, which results in the encouragement of labor.