Household chores worst form of child labour, experts say


Children ferrying firewood from Kerito Tea Estate in Nyamira County. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Did you know that having your child engaged in domestic labour service could land you as a parent in jail not more than one year or a fine not exceeding Sh200, 000?

Children officers have warned perpetrators including parents and guardians who break Section 64 (VII) of the Employment Act, going forward they will be arrested and prosecuted under this section.

This Section declares an offence for any person who employs, engages, or uses a child in an industrial undertaking in contravention of the provisions of part VII of the Employment Act. Domestic service involving children is considered among the worst forms of child labour.

And whereas existing data shows that there are 1.3 million children involved in child labour in Kenya, children affairs specialists, are concerned this number could be conservative, meaning, millions of children are suffering silently.

“We have agreed that household chores are another worst form of labour, if that child is deprived of going to school, something we have been doing as child work, but now, is a form of child labour, we are not going to waste time but come for you,” Mwambi Mong'are, deputy director, Children Services in charge of Children Protection at the Directorate of Children Services at the Ministry of Labour said.

If you are not aware, Mong’are cautioned parents who involve children in labour within their households when they are supposed to be in school, or playing like the other children, the law won’t hesitate to catch up with them.

“The law is clear; engaging children for more than six hours doing work at the household level, herding animals, tilling the land, assisting in picking coffee when they are supposed to be in school, you risk a jail term or heavy penalties,” Mong’are further warned.

“Let a child be a child. The law is clear,” he stated, regretting that despite the law being clear against the employment of children, sadly the minors were being recruited, engaged, and doing hard work every day.

“Mostly we are concerned with where children are involved in hazardous activities, whereby children are working in the quarries, mines; some of them herding animals, others even used in scaring away animals from destroying crops in agricultural farming sites,” he said in Naivasha where the International Labour Organisation (ILO) brought together children experts from the public and private sector for a weeklong meeting under the CAPSA- Capacity Strengthening of Governments to Address Child Labour and/or Forced Labor, and Violations of Acceptable Conditions of Work.

For the first time in post-independent Kenya, Mong’are noted that four officers from various departments within the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection that have been working separately came together.

“Initially we have been working in silos, but from here, we will be moving as a team when it comes to child labour issues.

“Whenever we find such a case we will go as a team; the police, labour officers, and children officers, and we will arrest people who are encouraging child labour, something that has never happened,” he said.

Martha Sunda, the Executive Director, Childline Kenya, expressed concern that the existing data is not clear on child labour and therefore blocks the real picture of the exploitation of children working in various labour undertakings.

She pointed out that there’s therefore need for Kenyans to have a basic understanding of what child labour constitutes. The meeting identified several gaps, which informed the establishment of key indicators aimed at facilitating comprehensive intervention on the rampant child labour in the country.

“Some of the challenges we have noticed is that the level of knowledge of what constitutes child labour is low,” she said, noting that in the communities; some cultures, and things that are done would not be considered child labour, while in the law they are child labour cases.

Sunda explained that for example when a child is overworked or is involved in labour activities when they are supposed to be in school, according to the law that’s is child labour.

A little girl washes dishes at her home in Chwele Bungoma County. [File, Standard]

“But in our cultures, we might even call it preparing them for responsibility, which is wrong,” she said and called for a basic understanding of what child labour is, which also then translates to what will be reported.

Further, she noted that if the community doesn't see that activity as child labour, they will not report it.

“We were, therefore, meeting to address issues of child labour to ensure that we are all on the same understanding of what child labour means. This is so to be able to document these cases for effective intervention of those that are reported in relation to this matter,” she said.

This, she noted as a gap, exposes the discrepancy when the government is allocating resources to address those issues.

The other gap identified in the meeting was in the workforce that's attending to these children because they are not well prepared with the skills to attend to them, identify those who are in need of assistance in regard to child labour, and provide relevant interventions as well.

“When you look at the statistics from surveys, it's about 1.3 million children, but when you go down to actual reported cases; then you find that they are very few. This translates to how we are defining child labour, how the cases are reported, and if it's being reported at all, and what interventions are being provided,” she said.

Andrew Odete, ILO-CAPSA Engagement and Partnerships Officer said the data collected is not accurate sometimes because compilation and collation is fragmented, and the project advises that coordination is important.

“There are many people collecting data at different levels; government and non-government, but still there is a bit of a bridge to cross to ensure that the coverage of data points across the country is comprehensive,” said Odete.

He pointed out that data on child labour means different things to different people sometimes, depending on their understanding of the definition of child labour.

“For instance when you look at the Child Protection Information Management Systems you find that child labour is defined so narrowly so as to exclude some key components such as Female Genital Mutilation- FGM, child marriage, children who are deployed in conflict situations, child sexual exploitation among other worst forms of child labour,” he said.

Consequently, the ILO, he said continued to support the programme to ensure effective collaboration with other stakeholders, to redefine some of the indicators identified so that data on child labour, is comprehensive, accurate and consistent.