The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Northern Province Records High Levels of Child Labour

As the government moves to eliminate the use of underage children in exploitive and hazardous activities in the country, a new survey on child labour indicates that 40.6 per cent of people, who are actively engaged in agriculture in the Northern Province, are children.

The 'Child Labour in Agriculture' household survey conducted by ICF international in January this year in the Northern Province, estimated 183,000 out of 214,000 people (ages 7 and older) involved in agricultural activities, were active in the previous seven days.

Though more than 74, 000 adults in the province indicated that fewer children were engaged in child labour related activities, over the 90, 000 children asked, reported engaging in these illegal activities.

About 51.2 per cent of child labourers are male. A big number of the victims [52.9 per cent] are aged between seven and 12 years while 28.2 per cent are between 13 and 15 years of age.

Most children were engaged in household chores such as cooking, washing clothes and fetching water. Girls reported doing most chores [84.9 per cent] compared to 74.9 of boys.

Overall, 13.5 per cent of children working in agriculture and attending school reported that their work interferes with their studies, at times forcing them to drop out of school.

The household survey included interviews with adult informants about the household and its members, as well as interviews with all the children aged seven to 17, living in the household.

The primary objective of the study was to estimate the prevalence of children working in agriculture in the Northern Province and to obtain representative information on the working conditions of these children, with a focus on workplace hazards.

This research is expected to contribute to the international discourse on exploitive child labour, raise awareness about the issues related to child labour in agriculture in Rwanda, and to inform current and future technical assistance efforts of the U.S. Department of Labour's (USDOL) - Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking (OCFT).

USDOL is already funding an anti-child labour project, Rwanda Education Alternatives for Children (REACH), which has seen 8, 300 children withdrawn and prevented from child labour, by offering educational alternatives in various programmes in seven districts.

Agriculture is considered by the International Labour Organization (ILO) among the three most dangerous sectors for children, along with construction and mining.

The agriculture sector is the main employer of children in the world, accounting for 60 per cent of an estimated 215 million child labourers, with many of these children working long hours and often exposed to toxic pesticides, dangerous tools, and extreme weather conditions, affecting their education.

With limited education and low skill levels, children working in agriculture are often condemned to be trapped in the rural poverty cycle when they become adults.

The 2008 Rwanda national child labour survey indicated that 11.2 per cent of children aged between five and 17 engaged in economic activities, with 79 per cent of them in agriculture.

The 2008 survey also indicated that the vast majority of children - 83.6 per cent - carried out household chores, with at least 87.9 per cent of them in the Northern Province.

Agriculture represents 34 per cent of the country's GDP, with coffee and tea being the main agricultural export. Approximately 90 per cent of the population works in agriculture, and most of this is subsistence farming.

While 93.0 per cent of children working in agriculture were currently in school, 82.9 per cent of children not working in agriculture were currently attending school.

Alexander Twahirwa, the Director of labour and administration in the Ministry of Public Service and Labour, said that they are waiting for the cabinet to approve the policy and five-year strategic plan to help engage all institutions in the fight against the use of underage children in exploitive and hazardous activities.

Eric Manzi, the executive secretary of the CESTRAR, the workers umbrella, said that though the government has moved to implement the law against child labour, there is need to address its causes.

According to the draft strategic plan, the withdrawal strategies aim at removing all children engaged in child labour and hazardous work through providing child labour alternatives, and improving the working conditions.

The plan is estimated to cost over US$3 million.

Child labour is attributed to poverty, limited awareness and information on child labour, child exposure or proximity to economic opportunities, and, social challenges such as family disputes.

Low level of education for some parents has been associated to the fact of their children being involved in child labour.

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