Early this month, four children were rescued by Police in Nyanza District where they had been tasked with household chores and commercial agricultural activities.
Other minors have also been rescued from various households where they were working as house helps, and in mining sites and tea plantations.
In 2018, police in the Eastern Province rescued children aged 13 to 15 from a ‘child labour, human trafficking’ scheme where they were going to be taken to neighbouring countries to work as goat herders.
These children have since been enrolled in school with the hope that they will have a better future.
Experts believe that children need the encouragement of family, and a non-hostile environment, in order to grow into active and productive adults with the ability to participate effectively in the development of the nation.
But when used for labour, they can easily be affected; that is, suffer from malnutrition, depression, drug dependency, to mention a few — making it a complex occurrence that needs collective effort to curb it.
Article 6 Relating to the Protection of the Child defines a child as “any person under 18 years of age.”
Nonetheless, officials say children are still found in rice farms, mining sites, conducting commercial activities, rearing cattle and other hazardous workplaces.
Lambert Hategekimana, officer in charge of protecting children’s right and promoting their welfare at Rwanda National Commission for Children (NCC), says in most cases, many of these children are not orphans, they are actually sent by their parents or guardians to work as casual labourers in return for money to be able to support the entire family.
Therefore, he insists that although other people should be involved in protecting children, parents are the crucial point when it comes to this.
What to consider
Joshua Mbaraga, the chairperson of the steering committee programme of Homes Services at Cornerstone Skills Rwanda, says there are different things people look at when looking for employees, be it in firms or private homes.
Cornerstone Skills Rwanda is an NGO with a mission of developing workplace-based skills, in support of national social-economic development.
“The only way employers should not fall prey to employing underage persons,” Hetegekimana says, “Is to ask for identification cards of people they want to employ, especially when it comes to casual work.”
Mbaraga says at their organisation, the first thing they look out for when taking in people to link them to different workplaces is age.
They do a background check on them, where they make decisions based on the information provided.
“To verify this, we get in touch with local leaders back home where these people come from. We also interview them to find out how compliant they are to the task they are looking for,” he says.
The organisation also considers other skills, which makes their decision easy to come to.
The skills they normally look for, he says, are from different training institutions. They include housekeeping and culinary arts.
Mbaraga advises that employers should stop picking young people randomly to work for them, saying that this is not only about child labour, but there are also many risks involved — including not knowing their background well, which can lead to even bigger problems.
More effort needed
According to Global Estimates of Child Labour 2012 to 2016, worldwide, 218 million children between 5 and 17 years of age are in employment where 152 million are victims of child labour.
Half of them (72.1 million) were found in Africa; 62.1 million in Asia; 10.7 million in the Americas; 1.2 million in the Arab States and 5.5 million in Europe and Central Asia.
Hategekimana says there is a need for everyone to help when it comes to fighting child labour.
He notes that this is so because it denies them the opportunity to develop themselves and secure a bright future.
“We can’t fight this war alone, we need support from families who employ these children. Again, the community should also play a part by ensuring they report such cases to the right people at the right time,” he says.
Hategekimana says that parents should protect and support their children, teach them simple home activities that discourage idleness since criminal behaviour could emerge as a result.
Fighting child labour
Fighting child labour is one the campaigns that Rwanda National Police (RNP) in partnership with other relevant institutions and local leaders are equally actively engaged in; for example, as seen in education and implementation of the law on child protection.
So, what is child labour? It is the denial of children’s rights and a barrier to holistic child development.
Rwanda has made a significant advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour. The government has adopted several new laws to strengthen the protection of children.
For instance, Article 6 of the Law Regulating Labour in Rwanda prohibits subjecting a child below the age of 18 to any form of works, which is physically harmful to the child.
This includes work underground, underwater, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces; around dangerous machinery, equipment, and tools, or which involves manual handling or transporting heavy loads.
Also, work in an environment that exposes the child to temperatures, noise levels or vibrations damaging his/her health; work for long hours or during the night or performed in confined spaces.
Although ministerial guidelines are well set and Rwanda put in place several measures to end child labour, Hetegekimana says the implementation of these legal instruments protecting children and ensuring they go back to school to grow up as productive people is an individual and collective responsibility.
Programmes to support families
Hategekimana says parents should not use the excuse of being poor or financial constraints to force or send minors into work.
He says there are different programmes meant to support vulnerable families.
First, he says, when this happens, there is need to highlight the specific problem the family has.
If there are some issues concerning either a child or family, be it financial or social, they should reach out to local leaders to help them face the issue at hand with concerned institutions or authorities.
For instance, there are programmes, such as ubudehe, the long-standing practice and culture of collective action and mutual support to solve problems within a community. It is a method of addressing rural poverty through collective community action, creating empowerment.
There are also different local bodies, for example, districts with programmes to support specific issues from families depending on the issue, and that assessment is normally done individually and not in general.
Parental responsibility and schools in general have a role to play as far as protecting children is concerned.
When it comes to schools, he says, they should understand that it’s their role to make sure they keep every child in school.
“Given that education is free in a sense that the child shouldn’t be asked for money or any other finances whatsoever, institutes should strive to help children remain in school,” he says.
He points out that parents should also ensure they provide scholastic materials to keep their children in school.
In case you need to report child labour in your neighbourhood, call for help on the emergency hotlines 112 and 116, or reach out to any police posts.