What you need to know:
- Figures from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) and the ILO on child labour in Kenya indicated that 26 per cent of children aged 14 or below were affected.
Kenya’s efforts to weed out child labour have been seriously undermined by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In what could signal just how deep the pandemic’s impact has gone, the International Labour Organization (ILO) says government efforts, including compulsory basic education and penalties against child labour, could be weakened as more families let children work to earn daily bread.
Currently, additional economic shocks and school closures caused by Covid-19 mean children already in child labour may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions, while many more may be forced into the worst forms of the vice due to job and income losses among vulnerable families.
ILO Director for East Africa Wellington Chibebe said on Saturday that the pandemic threatens to reverse gains made in efforts to end child labour by 2025.
“We must act now to end child labour and keep children in school and not in hazardous work,” Mr Chibebe said during a High Level Policy Makers Virtual meeting on ending child labour.
Figures from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) and the ILO on child labour in Kenya indicate that 26 per cent of children aged 14 or below are affected.
“Ninety percent of working children in Kenya live in rural areas toiling in family plots or in family units working in tea, coffee, sisal, sugarcane, tobacco, rice plantation,” Mr Chibebe told the meeting held as the continent marked the World Day Against Child Labour.
What is child labour?
According to the UN, child labour is work given to minors that is seen as depriving them of their childhood and dignity, and which may harm physical and mental development.
Even if the child is paid for it, the ILO says, any work which may harm their physical and mental growth is child labour and amounts to an illegality.
It, however, differs from child work, domestic chores or apprenticeship, which are usually meant to inculcate skills and responsibility among children, without harming them.
Families whose breadwinners lost jobs have seen their children stay at home for lack of school fees. In addition, schools in Kenya were closed for a year as the country struggled to find a policy for safe learning.
These gaps, the ILO official indicated, could make it harder to fight child labour as children are being forced to fend for themselves or earn bread for their families through hard labour.
“Children work because their survival depends on it, because their parents do not have access to decent work, because national and social protection systems are weak and because adults take advantage of their vulnerability,” Mr Chibebe said.
He also noted that Kenya is categorised as a hub and a transit centre for trafficking.
“Within the country, it is reported that traffickers exploit children through forced labour in domestic service, cattle herding, begging, agriculture and street vending,” he said.
According to estimates by ILO and Unicef, the number of Kenyan children engaged in child labour stands at 1.3 million or 8.5 per cent, with majority of them working in the agricultural sector.
Mr Chibebe cautioned that although progress has been made in the fight against child labour, those gains are at a risk.
The world still has some time and distance to cover, the official said.
The UN chose 2021 as the Year for the Elimination of Child Labour but now officials say the pandemic may make that difficult.
Regarding this, Mr Chibebe said: “This international year is an opportunity for governments to step up and achieve target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals by taking concrete actions to eliminate child labour for good."
Jacqueline Mugo, executive director of the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE), called for concerted efforts to end child labour.
“If we all work together ... if there is a concerted will, the we can end child labour,” said Ms Mugo.
She pledged FKE’s commitment by outlining some of her organisation’s initiatives aimed at addressing child labour, which include the adopt-a-school initiative, empowering households, supporting enterprises' recovery so as to create more job opportunities and a clear strategy on information sharing.
Benson Okwaro, deputy secretary-ceneral of Central Organization of Trade Unions (Cotu), also noted that Covid-19 has caused more families to lose incomes and forced children into child labour.
Mr Okwaro said partners need to look at what can be done at all levels and ensure the economy is opened to address unemployment, for children to be able to return to school.
“The new joint report by ILO and Unicef, titled 'Child labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward', indicates that the number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide – an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years," he noted.
"We, however, remain resolute that there will be an end to child labour."
According to the report, seven in every 10 children in child labour are working in agriculture.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, population growth, recurrent crises, extreme poverty and inadequate social protection measures have seen an additional 16.6 million children suffer child labour over the past four years.
The problem is worst in countries facing conflicts and disasters.
The world is off track with the goal to eliminate child labour by 2025.