How is Rwanda faring in the fight against child labour?
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While kids his age are at school, 12-year-old Kwizera braves the scotching heat from the sun to fetch water from a well 5 kilometres from his home. His feet are sore as a result of walking the long distance back and forth. His clothes are dirty and tattered, he is hungry and tired- and his day is not even done yet.
He delivers the water to a construction site not far away from his home. His parents don’t have money to keep him in school, and so he spends his days working, hoping to also financially support his parents.
Sad as this is, there are many children all over the world going through a similar situation. Most notably in the past, children of school-going age found themselves working in garages and factories, or even people’s homes as maids or farm attendants.
Over the years, the world has put in place measures to ensure that child labour is completely wiped out.
The state of the child labour in Rwanda
Every year, Rwanda joins the world in celebrating the ‘World Day against Child Labour’; a day celebrated every June 12. This year, the day will be acknowledged together with ‘The Day of the African Child’ (DAC) that is officially celebrated today, June 16.
The Ministry of Public Service and Labour (MIFOTRA) defines child labour as the denial of children’s rights and a barrier to holistic child development. Child labour is generally a complex phenomenon caused by many factors most of which are equally very complex.
Current statistics from EICV4 (2013/2014) conducted by National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) show that the total child labour ratio stands at 4.1 per cent with child labour in non-hazardous conditions amounting to 1.3 per cent of all children from the age of 6 to 17. Among children in child labour, only 2.8 per cent were engaged in the worst form of child labour, with children working in hazardous conditions.
Despite the efforts of the Government of Rwanda in reducing poverty through the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) I and II, and other programmes and laws regarding the reduction of child labour, the phenomenon of child labour still persists despite having decreased considerably.
Child rights protection and promotion officer at National Commission for Children, Jean de Dieu Tumusifu, says that in a recent survey countrywide, 13.4 per cent of children between the ages of 6 to 17 were involved in labour among which 3 per cent are involved in hard labour, while 2.1 per cent are involved in hazardous work.
According to the National Child Labour Survey 2008, and Integrated Household Living Condition Survey EICV3 (2010/11) and EICV4 (2013/14) conducted by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR), child labour among children aged 6 to 17 years has decreased by 38 per cent over 7 years from 6.6 per cent in 2008 to 4.1 per cent in 2013 and 14.
However, the proportion of children working in hazardous conditions increased from 2 per cent in 2010 and 11 to 2.8 per cent in 2013/14 due to the working status of children engaged in domestic services and the construction sector, but decreased tremendously in the agriculture sector.
Phoebe Mukazera, the child protection manager at Save the Children, also reveals that child labour is something that affects mostly children migrating from rural areas to towns to find jobs.
“This is mostly characterised by physical punishment, working for long hours, and are denied the chance to study while being paid less, or not at all. They’re future is being compromised which in the long run affects the future of the country. We have cases of employers who prefer to use the children because they are paid less and can be easily exploited,” she says.
The issue of children working as housemaids
According to Mukazera, a survey conducted in two sectors, Nyamirambo and Nyakabanda, last year indicated that there were many child domestic workers with over 100 children between the ages of 12 and 17 working as housemaids, most of whom were trafficked from villages to town.
“Some of the children identified revealed that their parents were not aware of them being involved in domestic labour which is a result of child trafficking. It was also identified that some of these cases are not known as their employers tend to hide from the public. Some of the children further revealed that when visitors came around, they were either hidden or disguised to be part of the family,” she says.
All this Mukazera blames on lack of awareness on the rights of children and the negligence of their parents.
“The law to protect the children is there but we need to enforce the law to stop this domestic child labour and get them in school. The fact that some of these children’s employers secretly use these children is enough indication that they are aware of the law that punishes them but do not know that these children also have rights,” she says.
She, therefore, calls for both responsive and preventive measures to see that the issue is quickly resolved.
She reveals that the organisation this year is initiating a project that will look at the responsive and preventive measures in rural districts. The idea is to work with ‘Friends of Families’, a government structure that works with families to see how they can protect children through local leaders and families while they are still in their homes.
“We have been raising awareness in Kigali but we also need to reach out to rural areas where cases of child negligence are high to raise awareness to parents and community leaders. Conflicts and the separation of children from their families that causes them to migrate to urban areas should be tackled,” she says.
Ministerial guidelines on child labour
MIFOTRA categorises children in their age groups permissible to work where allchildren younger than five years are assumed to be economically inactive. Children between five and 12 years are allowed to perform unpaid household chores but are not allowed to work in not more than 20 hours a week.
Children aged between the ages of 13 to 15 are allowed to perform light work, which includes domestic work and other family income generating activities inside or outside of their household, in not more than 20 hours a week. The minimum employment age in Rwanda is 16 years.
Children between the ages of 16 to 17 are, however, allowed to perform all activities except the worst forms of child labour and hazardous work.
What government is doing to address the issue of child labour
In November2016, a comprehensive report produced by MIFOTRA indicated that there were great achievements towards the elimination of child labour, including its worst forms in Rwanda.
According to Alexander Twahiirwa, Labour Administration Unit Director at MIFOTRA, notable among the achievements includes the adoption of the Early Childhood Development Policy, September 2016, which addresses the holistic development of the child and promotes inter-sectoral planning for the welfare of the children.
“Under the policy, kindergarten has been mainstreamed into basic education and this has encouraged parents to take their young children to kindergarten instead of workplaces which might expose them to hazards,” he says.
Also, the enforcement of child labour elimination laws, regulations and policies through regular inspection by labour inspectors, steering committees and imposing penalties on identified cases of use of child labour has helped curb issues of child labour.
There have been awareness campaigns towards the elimination of child labour as conducted by MIFOTRA in collaboration with District Steering Committees on child labour, where as a result, 7,169 children were withdrawn from child labour in the period of January to November 2016.
By enforcing Ministerial Guidelines N° 02 of 10/05/2016, the labour inspector has punished 116 employers and parents who were engaged in child labour period between June 2016 to March 2017.
Tumusifu also notes that many countrywide campaigns against child labour, in partnership with several government and non-governmental organisations, have been ongoing with labour inspectors identifying children in tea factories, queries or where children are doing heavy work.