Step up efforts to bring growing child labour problem to an end

A school going child crushes stones near Holo Shopping Centre in Seme Constituency. [File, Standard]

The global citizen has to make a lasting commitment to end child labour in all its forms. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) describes child labour (CL) as, work that deprives children (any person under the age of 18) of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to their physical and/or mental development.

Global estimates on child labour indicate that there are 160 million victims of child labour. Of these, 79 million are involved in worst forms of child labour (exposed to serious hazards) and are between ages five and 11 years based on the ILO and UNICEF Report (2016-2020).

Sub-Saharan Africa stands out as the region with the highest prevalence and largest number of children in child labour with shocking statistics of 86.6 million, representing 23.9 per cent of the population. Countries like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar have witnessed rising cases of child labour in the mining, agricultural, hospitality, construction and transport sectors including other informal employments that are exploitative.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 8.5 per cent of children (1.3 million) are engaged in child labour (2021 report). Children in rural and urban Kenya are susceptible to child labour due to structural, systemic and capacity gaps. These include weak family systems, poverty, uncoordinated preventive and response mechanisms and weak case management. This leads to far-reaching effects on children - missing out on education, physical and mental effects. Many of them also suffer irredeemable psychological damages due to hazardous work.

The above effects were confirmed recently by a study by Terre des Hommes Netherlands (TdH NL) and Investing in Children and their Societies under the Action against Child Labour project in Busia County. The study confirmed that poverty is a push factor to child labour.

Busia has a Human Development Index of 0.43 below the national average of 0.52, an indication of high poverty levels. Further, it is estimated that the poverty index is at 83 per cent, meaning about nine out of every 10 children in Busia are multidimensionally poor. The study also established that 45 per cent of children in school and 55 per cent out of school children are in child labour. 

Governments, CSOs and private sector interventions have invested heavily in policy formulation and implementation, awareness creation and livelihood programmes in addressing child labour. The ILO convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labour became the first ever international labour standard to achieve universal ratification.

While the universal ratification of ILO Convention 182 is remarkable towards eradicating child labour issues by establishing clear roadmaps, countries in the region still need to enforce and ensure effective implementation through labour inspection and other means.

Kenya and countries in the East African region, are working closely with private sectors, CSO and ILO in domesticating and amplifying labour laws and strengthening systems and structures ranging from regional collaborations to country engagements with the aim of streamlining the fight against child labour and other contributing exploitations. However, there are still gaps and challenges ranging from inadequate awareness, weak prevention and response structures and inadequate enforcement of child labour laws.

Action Against Child Labour Project implemented by TdH NL and ICS SP is committed to eliminating child labour in all its forms in the service industry in Busia and by influencing implementation of relevant laws and policies. Recommendations towards elimination of child labour include: The Ministry of Education should continue enforcing enrollment, retention and transition of children across the education landscape while liaising with the local administration, parents and caregivers on prevention and withdrawal of children from worst forms of Child labour

The Ministry of Labour and social protection should coordinate, harmonise and consolidate existing laws, including finalisation of the hazardous list of child work; mobilise resources towards elimination of CL by county, national government, donors and CSOS while focusing on the root causes of CL.

The Ministry of Labour should carry out regular and periodic labour inspections in quarries, restaurants, hardware shops and other small and medium enterprises in the counties to not only weed out child labour, but also deter employment of children; and sensitise private employment agencies on the ILO conventions.

The Directorate of Children Services to promote and strengthen collection of accurate and timely data on child labour. This will inform child labour data-driven prevention and response planning. Trade unions and associations, through the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and business associations are supported to develop and enforce good practices on self-regulation code regarding child labour.

A clarion call to action to all actors from community organisations, county and national governments as well as regional collaborations to act on Sustainable Development Goals target 8.7 and take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.