Businesses in sectors such as hospitality, mining, tea and rice plantations could face severe punitive measures if found to be engaging in child labor or indecent labour, activists and government officials have warned.
Figures show that at least 146,386 children are employed in worst forms of child labor and hazardous works across the country.
They are mainly employed in activities such as tea and coffee, fishing, agriculture, construction, mining, marshlands, restaurants and bars as well as transport.
The warning was issued during the recent dialogue that convened the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Rwanda Mining and Petroleum Board, National Children Council, the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, Private Sector Federation, National Agricultural Export Development Board, the Ministry of Labor, CLADHO-the umbrella of civil societies fighting for human rights in Rwanda among many others.
They shared findings from an assessment dubbed “Analysis of the Impact of key business policies on child rights in Rwanda” which indicated that business violate the ten principles that govern businesses in terms of child rights’ protection.
The principles call for all businesses to respect children’s rights though private sector federation’s code does not clarify any requirement to ensure supplied goods were not in violation of children’s rights, said Evariste Murwanashyaka, the Programs Manager and Child Rights focal Person at CLADHO.
“All businesses should fight against child labor according to the principles but we still see children in large mining operations, tea plantations and informal sector,” he said while presenting the observations.
All businesses are expected to provide decent work to workers but many institutions especially private ones do not issue work contracts to them as well as other benefits such as insurance while others work them long hours, the assessment found out.
Among the requirements to businesses include ensuring safety of children in all business activities, yet the survey found children getting involved in gaming and betting activities while many bars and hotels do not display signs to notify that children are not allowed to the premises.
“Some of the factories products are not safe for children including some imported products while some alcoholic beverages have no brands that warn against selling the products to children. Some big projects do not mention anything about child rights protection in their environment impact assessment. Many projects have no policy to fund vulnerable children in community where they operate,” he added.
He said that there is still low level of awareness of laws protecting children’s rights in businesses as well as discrepancies between laws on child labor.
“There is recommendation to set up national action plan on respecting children’s rights among businesses and initiate legal reform to harmonize the laws,” he said.
Faustin Nsanzimana, the Legal Advisor to the Ministry of Trade and Industry stressed that punitive measures must be enforced against businesses that violate children’s rights.
“In some policies and big projects we find no policy in protection children and therefore some policies must be revised. All must be revised and enforce punitive measures,” he said.
He added that, on the other hand, there are policies in some instances which are not implemented.
“We know what labour law says about decent work but this right is still violated, people have contracts, no insurance among other challenges,” he said.
Yves Shirimpumu who works in the Chamber of Tourism at Rwanda Private Sector Federation said that new guidelines by Rwanda Development Board have revised disciplinary measures for those found guilty.
“In hospitality sector we have businesses such as bars and hotels. RDB has issued over 80 guidelines to all business in the sector including those on how they have to protect children. Those who will be caught red-handed will see their business closed, arrested or face other punitive measures,” he said.
He added that among the issues on decent work include the business that not respect shift hours to workers leading some to work for unpaid overtime hours.
According to Issa Nkurunziza, the Tea Division Manager in NAEB, all factories with tea plantations can only employ after checking identity cards to ensure no child is employed.
He added that parents with young babies will benefit from Early Childhood Development centers being built around tea plantations.
“For instance currently 8 tea factories have ECD centers while 3 cooperatives have also built the centers for children,” he said adding that joint monitoring must continue to ensure no forms of child labour in tea plantations.