The Monitor (Kampala)

Uganda: Tooro Tea Farms Hire 40,000 Children

Over 40,000 children below the age of 10 work at the tea estates on a full-time basis, in Tooro region alone, according to the International Labour Organisation.

Tooro region is one of the leading tea producers in Uganda where child labour is reportedly rampant.

At least 200,000 people in western Uganda earn their living by plucking the green leaves at Shs1,500 per day.

The problem, which according to ILO reports, remains a daunting challenge that underscores the urgent need to help children in the region to return to normal life of schooling, and good health.

The new ILO report titled: "The end of child labour: Within reach" calls for the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) to reach children in the informal economy and small and medium-sized businesses that provide the bulk of employment, and promote integrated approaches to get children out of work and into school to achieve economic progress.

Western Uganda still faces a challenge to achieve effective enforcement against child labour. According to the National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU), more needs to be done in the fight against the practice, especially among tea growers who cut costs of production by using children on plantation farms.

Mr Kenneth Kyamulesire, the General Manager of Mabale Tea Factory, in Tooro, denies claims that most of the tea farmers use children to cut costs of production. He said that his firm supports two children from the community to allow them to go to school and avoid child labour.

ILO, however, remains optimistic the war on child labour will be won.

"The end of child labour is within our reach," says Juan Soma via, Director-General of the ILO. "Though the fight against child labour remains a daunting challenge, we are on the right track. We can end its worst forms in a decade, while not losing sight of the ultimate goal of ending child labour in sectors where the practice is still rampant," he added.

The report says the actual number of child labourers worldwide fell by 11 percent between 2000 and 2004, from 246 million to 218 million. However, some 50 million children in Sub-Saharan Africa are still engaged in hard work against their will on plantations. ILO has stepped up its efforts to fight child labour in Uganda by recruiting partners.

"To spread the campaign across the nation, six regional FM radio stations were identified as the principal partners and disseminators of the values and messages in the two-year project," Mr Joseph Katende, the coordinator of the ILO programme, said.

The programme has had some positive results with a number of children returning to school.

"I felt good to find myself back at school and studying because this will benefit me in the future", says Alice Kemigisa, a 13-year old girl who used to work on one of the tea plantations.

Regional Secretary for the National Union of Plantation and Agricultural Workers of Uganda, Mr Paddy Twesigomwe, said the actual number of children withdrawn from the tea estates is 365 partly because of the radio campaigns.

Child labour is partly encouraged by the deepening poverty and the HIV/aids scourge forcing children to engage in labour to fend for their families either as child parents or to complement their parents' income.

It is estimated that about 47 million African children are still out of school and of those who start primary school, only one in three complete, according to the report. ILO estimates, that the elimination of child labour and its replacement by universal education in Uganda would yield net economic benefits amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars, over and above the evident social and intrinsic benefits.

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