According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the use of child domestic workers is widespread and it leaves them vulnerable to exploitation.(2) There are no accurate statistics on the number of domestic child workers worldwide; however in 2004 the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated that there were about 200,000 child domestic workers.(3) Domestic work can generally be distinguished from child labour. Children are generally expected to do some form of work as part of their socialisation, including work at home. In the case of child labour, children’s work often interferes with the schooling of the children and can impair their health and development.(4)
The law that deals with employment in Uganda regards work in public places, but child domestic work occurs in an environment that is considered private. This complication notwithstanding, organisations have fought for the rights of child domestic workers. Legal frameworks that protect children’s rights are critical to understanding the matter at hand. Uganda has enacted several laws to protect children’s rights and these are most often used to fight for the rights of children who are abused as domestic workers. This brief presents some of Uganda’s child protection laws and then outlines the good work that the Platform for Labour Action (PLA) does for child domestic workers in the country.
Child domestic workers and Ugandan law
According to the Ugandan Demographic and Health Survey 2000/1, there were about 2.7 million working children in Uganda at the time. 54% of these were 10-14 years old and about a third were younger than 10.(5) Out of this number, “83% of boys and 88% of girls help out regularly with household chores.”(6) The survey also reveals that more than half of all children were engaged in economic activity by 13 years of age. These young child workers constitute a particular policy concern: they are most vulnerable to workplace abuses, and most at risk of work related illness and injury, not to mention their loss of education. According to the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports, 345,368 children of school going age were not registered for school in 2009.(7)
The Ugandan legal regime has a number of provisions for the protection of children against child labour. The Uganda Constitution 1995 (Chapter 1, Article 34 (4) provides for the protection of a child from hazardous and exploitative work. It clearly states the following rights of children:(8) Children are entitled to be protected from social and economic exploitation and shall not be employed in or required to perform work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with their education or to be harmful to their health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
The Children’s Statute 1996 spells out the rights of a child and the welfare principles that guide those taking care of children. Part 2, Section 9 states “A child has a right not to be made to work or take part in any activity whether for pay or not which is likely to injure the child’s health, education, mental, physical or moral development. For example, all children have to help out in household work, but they must do so according to their age and ability.”(9) In addition, a Ugandan child has the following rights: A right to live with his or her parents; the right to education and guidance; the right to be protected from violence, ill-treatment and any behaviour that might show a lack of care or interest in child; the right to be protected from any form of discrimination; the right to be protected from any social or customary practices that are dangerous to the child’s health. For children with disabilities, it is the states duty to have the child examined to determine the extent and type of disability and thereafter, the child shall be provided with facilities to help him/her live as normal a life as possible.
Despite the elaborate rights of children in the legal framework, child domestic workers still exist in Uganda, the majority of which are girls. Contributing factors to child domestic work include, socio-economic, political (civil strife), HIV/AIDS related due to the death of parents, and institutional/policy related factors, cultural influences where children were discriminated against, and employers’ preference for young workers with less demands compared to older workers.(10)
When child workers enter the labour market, they usually don’t know what their rights are. The Minimum Wage in Uganda was set in 1984 and has not been revised since then.(11) As a result, child domestic workers are paid between Shs 4,000 (US$ 1.78) and Shs 10,000 (US$ 4.44) per month.(12) While the Employment Act 2006 recognises ‘housemaids,’ the irony is that the act does not recognise the category of workers known as ‘domestic workers’ because homes are considered private premises and therefore cannot be inspected by labour officers to enforce the act.(13)
The Platform for Labour Action (PLA)
The PLA used the results of research on child work to follow up on domestic child worker related issues.(14) The results of the study were used to educate the communities in the selected study areas and helped to raise national concern about child labour issues.(15) The PLA has been able to demonstrate that it is possible to initiate change in a community, regardless of how daunting such a task may appear. One of the PLA’s projects works to empower communities to prevent child domestic work and protect child domestic workers from abuse and exploitation in a parish of Kampala District. The organisation developed a training manual to train communities on how to prevent and protect child domestic workers. In addition, a newsletter based on the experiences of child domestic workers was also developed to assist in peer education.
The PLA also initiated several other activities, including the selection of 75 child domestic workers who developed messages that were used as posters for sensitising the community; monitoring of child domestic workers’ working conditions through the community taskforce members and direct engagement with individual employers about the problem of child domestic work; the establishment of a network of child domestic workers through the registration of children involved in child domestic work and those at risk and finally, the setting up of a drama and a peer educator group to sensitize communities on child labour issues.(16) The PLA’s work is not restricted to Kampala. The organisation has also, for example, enabled 365 girls to enter primary and secondary schools in Lira district in Northern Uganda.(17)
The future of Ugandan children
Several factors underpin the widespread use of domestic child workers in Uganda. Any further attempts to address the problem will consequently have to approach it from different angles, as the PLA is doing. The country’s legal framework is an important instrument in the fight against child domestic work, because it offers a yardstick against which rights and obligations can be examined. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) like the PLA play an important mediating role between legal frameworks and the domestic child workers. The PLA approaches the issue from different angles, including education, provision of skills and even provision of shelter for some children. The PLA therefore offers much more to child victims of domestic labour than simply law enforcement. NGOs are well positioned in development work at the grassroots and hence play a leading role in tackling child domestic work. The PLA should be commended for their work – they champion children’s rights like we all should.
(1) Contact Steven Arojjo through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Eyes on Africa series (firstname.lastname@example.org).
(2) UNICEF, ‘Efforts against child labour often overlook domestic child workers’, UNICEF, 16 July 2010, http://www.unicef.org.
(4) Bourdillon, M. (ed.) 2000. Earning a Life: Working Children in Zimbabwe. Harare: Weaver Press.
(5) ILO & UBOS. nd. Child Labour in Uganda: A Report based on the 2000/2001 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey. Kampala: ILO.
(6) Witter, S. 2004. “Developing a Framework for Monitoring Child Poverty: Results from a Study in Uganda.” in Children & Society, 18, 3-15.
(8) Government of Uganda. 1996. The Uganda Constitution 1995. The Uganda Printing and Publishing Corporation: Entebbe, Uganda.
(9) Government of Uganda. 1997. The Children Statute 1996.
(10) ILO, 2006, ‘Emerging Good Practices on Action to Combat Child Domestic Labour in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia,’ http://www.ilo.org.
(14) PLA is an NGO that has been working to promote the human rights of the vulnerable and marginalised workers in Uganda since 2002. http://www.pla-uganda.org.