Child labour on the rise in Uganda as coronavirus lockdown closed schools


Some 15 million Ugandan children are at risk of being forced to work as families are pushed towards extreme poverty, when schools closed indefinitely since Uganda went into a strict lockdown to fight COVID-19 in March, charities said.

A Save the Children report carried out in May found 56% of Ugandans had noticed an increase in child labour since the beginning of the lockdown.

“(There are) children in the streets selling stuff, selling alcohol, selling food in the markets, but also some of the big gold mines, we’ve had quite a few reports of more children going to work there,” said Alun McDonald, head of advocacy and communications for Save the Children in Uganda.

He said the charity has also been getting reports about increasing numbers of teenage girls being drawn into sex work to help their families make ends meet and buy everyday goods including food and sanitary pads.

The pandemic has put millions of children worldwide at risk of being pushed into labour, reversing two decades of work to combat the practice and potentially marking the first rise in child labour since 2000, the United Nations warned in June.

Uganda implemented one of Africa’s strictest lockdowns to curb the coronavirus and has kept infections relatively low at under 1,000 cases, with no deaths. The government has loosened some of the restrictions but many remain.

While lessons are being broadcast by state television and radio stations, government officials have acknowledged that many children do not have access to them.

Last week, Education Minister Janet Museveni said the ministry was “in advanced stages of developing home-schooling study materials for the entire primary and secondary education levels,” while continuing to assess when schools can reopen.

In the meantime, the government has pledged to provide all households with a radio so children can tune into lessons, but it is not clear when that will happen.

Rights groups fear many children may never return to school, especially those from poorer communities that could struggle to pay school fees and other necessary expenses such as exercise books and uniforms.

“The longer children are out of school and the longer the situation goes on, the less likely they are to go back,” McDonald said. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)