Picking education, not tea: Voices of change in Uganda

The new ILO report The end of child labour: Within reach paints a mixed picture of child labour worldwide. While the global total of child labourers is on the decline, there remain some 50 million working children in sub-Saharan Africa. But the unprecedented international movement to end child labour, including an innovative awareness-raising campaign using local radio shows, is opening a window of opportunity for Africa's fight against the practice. The ILO's Kevin Cassidy reports from a tea plantation in Uganda.

Under a warm sun, in the lush green rolling hills of Toro in western Uganda, 15-year old Annet is picking tea alongside hundreds of other children for about US$0.30 a day.

This sea of young faces, scattered throughout the tea plantations of Fort Portal, look sadly towards a bleak future.

"Yes, I want to go to Kyebambe Girls' Secondary School. But my parents are poor and cannot support me," Annet says quietly. "I need to go and pluck tea to get money and then buy books and pens, but sometimes I can't manage."

Although the Ugandan Constitution 1995 (Chapter 1, Article 34 (4)) provides for the protection of a child from hazardous and exploitative work, it is estimated that there are 7.9 million children, aged 5 to 17 years old, working as child labourers. Simply put, 1 in 3 children in Uganda are child labourers.

The majority of these children trapped in child labour are in rural areas where poverty affects around 60 per cent of the population. These dire circumstances are further compounded by the fact that 1 in 5 children are orphaned, mainly by HIV/AIDS, with many heading households and supporting brothers and sisters with back-breaking and poorly paid work.

These children, very early in life, must make the difficult decision to help their families survive while sacrificing their right to an education and possibly a better future.

Changing perceptions through dialogue

In support of the ILO's technical cooperation project "Strengthening Labour Relations in East Africa" (SLAREA), a communications campaign was developed to promote rights at work in East Africa. In Uganda, this campaign started work with six national broadcasters in as many different local languages, to help raise awareness on the critical Declaration issues of freedom of association, child labour, forced labour and discrimination. These radio stations included Voice of Teso, Voice of Toro, Radio Paidha, CBS, Radio Uganda and Radio Kigezi.

In Fort Portal, Voice of Toro became a willing and active champion of the working people of Uganda. The station broadcast a weekly radio programme focusing on the Declaration issues and provided a platform for government officials and workers' and employers' representatives to discuss these issues and engage in dialogue with the local community.

For Paddy Twesigiromwe, representative for the National Union of Plantation and Agricultural workers of Uganda (NUPAU), this provided the access to people that was sorely needed. "The ILO radio campaign was actually very good and is still very good. It assisted us a lot because it's the best medium to reach the farmers," said Mr. Twesigiromwe.

The combination of active union involvement with the workers and farmers and the awareness-raising campaign and assistance from a large business there, Mabale Tea Growers Factory, has proven to be quite a successful formula in eliminating child labour on their estates.

At the Mabale Tea Growers Factory, located in Kyenjojo district about 20 kilometres from Fort Portal, for anyone to be employed they must produce a graduated tax ticket. This is an annual tax paid by anyone above the age of 18 years irrespective of whether they are employed or not. Ironically, the government had abolished the tax, which leaves the factory management with the option of requiring a letter from the local village authorities to ensure that the jobseeker is of age.

There are supervisors on the estates who go into the field whenever there are workers picking tea. In addition to ensuring that labourers who have not been contracted don't go onto the farms, they also see to it that parents don't carry children along to help them pick more tea after a day's work.

The Mabale Tea Growers Factory has been active in ensuring that its activities complement the system of universal primary education (UPE), instituted by the Ugandan government in 1997. The goal of UPE is to increase enrolment and retention of children in primary schools. The Mabale Tea Factory has helped poorer parents with scholastic materials such as books, pens and teaching aids. As a result of this initiative, 90 children formerly working on the tea estates go to the nearby Kabaranga Primary School with the assistance of the factory.

"We are trying to help eliminate child labour by supporting education. We are helping to brighten the children's future development," says Kenneth Kyamulesire, general manager for the factory.

When visited by the ILO's national project coordinator, Joseph Katende, Mr. Kyamulesire credited the radio programmes, and the discussions he had with his family and friends on the issue, for changing his mind about child labour.

In cooperation with the local leaders and the trade union representative, the company has committed to providing school materials to ensure that the children remain in school and don't go out to work to pay for these essentials.

After discussion with local leaders in this region, it has been shown that the radio programmes have greatly assisted in the process of removing 365 children from the plantations of Butit, Mukunyu, Kyarusozi and Mabale tea farms over the past year.

Avoiding a backslide into child labour

One of the main problems that poor agricultural communities face is keeping students in school and preventing them from falling back into child labour situations. At times, parents may not value or see the long-term benefits of education - especially if it comes at the expense of immediate income for poor families.

The Headmistress of the Kabaranga Primary School, a small local school that recently received a large number of children formerly working on the tea plantations, was concerned about keeping the children in school and focused on their education.

"We are very happy to have these children here with us; they are eager to learn. But our biggest challenge is what will happen to the children after primary seven? Will the children go back to the tea estates because they don't have money to continue with education?" said the Headmistress, known as Ms. Alice to the students.

With the sounds of song and dance in the background, many of these children said that although they are happy to be back in school, poverty will force many over the weekend to go work on the tea estates to make a few thousand shillings (about US$1 to US$2) to help support their family and buy school materials. Many of these children are orphans and live with their elderly grandparents who are too weak to work and need the children's support to buy food.

The parents and guardians all expressed a need for income-generating activities to help improve their financial situation. The lack of employment opportunities as well as the advanced age of many of the guardians means that there are serious trade-offs between survival of the whole family and the education of a few.

But to Jane Rose Nasuna, it was clear. "Some parents care about their children's education. Others think they are wasting money on education. But me, I am doing all I can to see that my child goes to higher [learning] institutions. Maybe in the future, I can also leave this kind of work when my child gets a better job and I can finally rest," said Jane as she stroked her child's hair.

As the scores of children emptied from their classrooms, they seemed to be enjoying learning and playing with friends, instead of working under the sweltering sun on the tea plantations. "It felt good to find myself back at school and to study because in the future it will benefit me more," said young Benjamin Kisembo, smiling widely.

As the community continues to work together, the ILO will continue to combat child labour as well as to support awareness-raising through the interactive radio programmes. Joseph Kasimbazi, the show's Producer for Voice of Toro, feels that "there is a great need for people here to know about how these children are losing their childhood and their future".

Kash, as he is known on the air, believes that with "the radio programmes we can reach many more people. I feel proud that I am part of this change. But we cannot do this alone; we need assistance to help the dreams of these children become a reality."

New Global Report on child labour

On 4 May 2006, the ILO released its new Global Report on child labour entitled The end of child labour: Within reach. The Report stated that child labour, especially in its worst forms, is in decline for the first time across the globe.

The Report, launched concurrently by 25 ILO offices, shows that the number of child labourers fell globally by 11 per cent over the last four years - from 246 million in 2000 down to 218 million in 2004 - while that of children in hazardous work decreased by 26 per cent - 171 million in 2000 down to 126 million in 2004.

According to the Report, Latin America and the Caribbean have seen the most rapid decline in child labour over the four-year period. The number of children at work in the region has fallen by two-thirds during that time, with just 5 per cent of children now engaged in work.

The Asia and the Pacific region also registered a significant decline in the number of economically active children, according to the Report. However, as the child population also declined, the percentage of working children was not as large. The ILO estimates that the region still has the largest number of child workers in the 5-14 age group - some 122 million.

With 26 per cent of the child population, or almost 50 million, children engaged in work, the sub-Saharan African region has the highest proportion of children engaged in economic activities of any region in the world. According to the Global Report, the convergence of high population growth, grinding poverty and the epidemic of HIV/AIDS has hindered progress in the fight against child labour. However, there are signs of progress. For example, primary school enrolments in the region increased by 38 per cent between 1990 and 2000.

Although the ILO and its tripartite partners have been at the forefront of international efforts to eliminate child labour, there is now a growing diversity of actors making important contributions to this process.

Political commitment, through the adoption of coherent policies in the areas of poverty reduction, basic education and human rights is central to the progress, both past and present, made by countries in combating child labour. Policies such as poverty reduction and greater availability of education are important prerequisites for moving countries to the transition point in tackling child labour.

Furthermore, the rapid ratification of ILO Conventions (No. 182 and No. 138), together with advances in other international treaties relating to children's rights, have contributed significantly to the recent progress on eliminating child labour. Currently, there are 160 countries that have ratified the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), out of the ILO's 178 member States.

This widely supported legislative and policy framework, combined with concrete action and awareness-raising, has given the global movement a strong focus. Progress has been achieved largely through the ILO's largest technical cooperation programme, the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), which has been active for the past 14 years.

Many organizations, UN agencies, NGOs and other civil society groups have joined the ILO's call for reinvigorated action. All of these elements together have worked to reduce child labour. The mass media and the academic community have both responded to the rising international profile of child labour and are becoming strong partners in its elimination.

The challenge over the coming years will be for the ILO to work in a more focused and strategic manner to act as the catalyst for a re-energized global alliance in support of national action to abolish child labour. This transformation in approach to global leadership will ensure that the ILO will contribute more effectively to consigning child labour to history.

For more information, please visit www.ilo.org/declaration.

ILO TV reports - Uganda tea plantation child labour - Duration: 2 min. 54 sec. (4.43 MB)
In Western Uganda trade unions, employers and local radio are working together to encourage children to stop working in the tea plantations and go to school.

Every child needs a teacher

One reason why many countries fail to educate their children and adults is the lack of qualified teachers. The ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers, adopted 40 years ago, is still the world's only comprehensive international standard on the teaching profession. More recently, the Pretoria Declaration on Teachers (2005) and the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report (2005) said large numbers of countries still need to focus on creating sufficient numbers of well-qualified, adequately remunerated and highly motivated teachers to realize the Education for All (EFA) and MDG goals. Although the deficit of qualified teachers worldwide is not known, it is estimated that roughly 35 million new teachers are needed to meet the 2015 EFA goals - with an increase in many countries by 20 per cent a year in order to reduce pupil/teacher ratios to 40:1.

Countries that are unable to meet EFA targets generally invest only half of this figure in education, and some say more than 20 countries are at risk of not achieving universal primary education (UPE) by 2015.

The ILO approach

The ILO recommends that countries should invest at least 6 per cent of their GDP in education and training. Since 2004, it has assisted more than 20 countries in Africa, the Americas and Eastern Europe to address information gaps, assess teacher needs and develop and apply policy solutions with governments, teacher unions and private schools - a critical tool in the fight against child labour. For this reason, ILO-IPEC (International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour) has lent its full support to the campaign "Every Child Needs a Teacher".

Child labour is…

Child labour is a violation of fundamental human rights and has been shown to hinder children's development, potentially leading to lifelong psychological and physical damage. Child labour can be divided into three categories:

  • work done by a child who is younger than the minimum age for work (Convention No. 138);
  • hazardous work that poses a risk to the physical, mental or moral well-being of a child under 18 (16 under certain strict conditions); and,
  • the worst forms of child labour (Convention No. 182).

Major relevant ILO Conventions:

World Day against child labour goes global

With World Cup fever in full swing, the ILO waved a "Red Card" against child work as part of a series of global events in early June to mark the World Day Against Child Labour. The slogan calling for the elimination of child labour was "Together we can do it". And in scores of countries and in hundreds of towns, the global movement against child labour showed that they intend to do just that.

From Addis to Albania, from Brazil to Burkina Faso, the World Day Against Child Labour on 12 June marked a new high point in the global mobilization against child work. Events took place around the world, in more than 70 countries and involving at least 100 projects. The ILO International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour considers this year's world day as an unqualified success.

"This year marks the most events we've ever seen on the World Day," said IPEC Director Guy Thijs. "The number of activities was very impressive and shows the extent to which our partners at the country and local level are joining forces to eliminate child labour."

If the "Red Card" campaign activity in Geneva was symbolic, the impact of the last decade of IPEC work in mobilizing action against child labour was anything but. Events in the field included nationwide round tables, TV debates, football games, theatre plays, art exhibits, street performances and marches, after-school programmes, musical and cultural events, amongst hundreds of different activities.

The events of the day followed the release in May of the ILO Global Report entitled The end of child labour: Within reach (see page 14). The report was discussed by tripartite delegates to the International Labour Conference on 9 June. Delegates reviewed progress and identified challenges ahead on the way to eliminating the hazardous forms of child labour over the next decade. Participating in the special round-table event were Brazilian Minister of Labour H.E. Mr. Luis Marinho, the Tanzanian Minister of Labour H.E. Mr. Jumanne Maghembe and the Turkish Minister of Labour H.E. Mr. Murat Basesgioglu together with the workers' and employers' representatives. In addition, Ministers of eight Portuguese-speaking countries in all regions of the world gathered on 8 June to announce to the International Labour Conference the adoption of a joint declaration against child labour and its worst forms.

In Geneva, the ILO marked the day with an event featuring football World Cup legend Roger Milla who came to "Kick the Ball" against child labour in a friendly match with local schools and clubs. Joining the ceremony prior to the match were ILO Director-General Juan Somavia, Mr. Federico Addiechi, head of Corporate Social Responsibility of the International Federation of Football Associations FIFA, Dr. Eduardo Missoni, Secretary General, World Organization of the Scout Movement, Ms. Nicole Petignat, a renowned female referee qualified for international matches and Mr. Carlos Xavier, a football player from Portugal and creator of a football club promoting child development. Ms. Petignat asked the girls there present to add their voices to her "whistle" against child labour, and to kick the ball for girls' and boys' rights, with a focus on giving children, and especially girls, an alternative to work, such as schooling, sports activities and leisure.

An important activity also took place in Sialkot, Pakistan, a town where IPEC has been eradicating child labour in the football-stitching sector with support from, among others, FIFA. Children who used to stitch footballs now played football in a break from their schooling, as part of a new programme that includes sport as part of the rehabilitation of former child labourers worldwide.

"The World Day is not just another event," said Mr. Thijs. "It serves as a catalyst for the growing worldwide movement against child labour."