23 October 2012

Uganda: Rights Group Gives New Day, New Hope to Deprived Slum Children

Until October 31, New Vision will devote space to highlighting the plight of slum dwellers as well as profiling those offering selfless service to improve conditions in these areas. Today, Andrew Masinde brings you the story of how the lives of street children in Kampala have been transformed by Platform for Labour Action

Edward Iga was denied education because his stepmother saw no need for him to attend school. She convinced his father not to waste his money paying school fees for him since he would never amount to anything in life.

Upset by his parents' decision, Iga, at the age of 12 years, ran to the street in 2005. While on the streets he survived on money from selling used mineral water bottles he picked from Katwe slum. "I used to make between sh1,000 and sh3,000 a day, which I would spend on food," Iga recalls.

While looking for bottles one day, he heard what sounded like a rally. Curiously he rushed to the scene and found an outreach programme organised by Platform for Labour Action (PLA). PLA is an NGO that protects the rights of vulnerable people in slums and rural areas through economic empowerment and legal aid.

They were preaching against child labour. As he listened attentively, a PLA officer approached and asked him if he wanted to go to school and he responded affirmatively. Iga was later enrolled in a vocational school, where he learnt how to make shoes. Today he earns his bread from making shoes.

Rescuing child workers

PLA was founded in 2000 by a group of female activists to advocate for the rights of marginalized employees and fight against unsafe working conditions, inadequate access to healthcare and inadequate social security for disadvantaged persons.

The NGO targets children at risk of exploitation, women and youth infected and affected by HIV/AIDS and lowincome earners, that is, those who earn below sh150,000 per month.

A 2010/11 Uganda Bureau of Statistics household survey estimated that 2.75 million children in Uganda are engaged in child labour, with 51% (1.4 million) involved in hazardous work.

To marginalised people, PLA offers legal aid and it also enrolls children rescued from exploitative situations in both vocational and formal schools.

During their community empowerment trainings, PLA has identified over 1,000 child domestic workers and children at risk of becoming domestic workers. To mitigate this problem, PLA trained over 45 volunteers on the dangers of child labour and the legal provisions relating to child domestic work and children's rights so they could sensitise the communities.

As a result, PLA has made great strides in helping a large number of child domestic workers. Over 200 children have been rescued from child labour; 150 of these were in high-risk work environments.

Of the child domestic workers who were rescued, 76 were taken back to school, while 55 received kits, which included sewing machines, saws and hammers, to start their own income-generating activities.

PLA organises counseling sessions for these children and also trains teachers through their Support Child Right through Education Art and Media where schools are made a conducive place for the children and this is done through teacher to child training.

The organisation has helped over 4,000 children on the streets of Kampala, placing them in vocational schools and all facilitation is provided. Lule says many children of such were trafficked from villages to the city under the guise of getting education.

"Instead of being placed in school, they ended up as domestic workers, living and working in exploitative conditions. These children suffered physical, mental and sexual abuse at the hands of their employers," she says.

Lule adds that after completion of school, the children are placed in some workplaces and others are given tools that they use to start their own income-generating activities. Samuel Balagadde, 19, was on the streets where he was picked by PLA in 2006 and now he is working.

Balagadde says he was taken to a vocational school where he trained as a shoe maker and now he rents his owns place and other basic needs plans to go for further studies to become a mechanical engineer.

Nicholas Kabale, 20, says his parents never took him to school and he went to the streets. In 2007, he was adopted by PLA and now he is in Nile Vocational institute studying electrical installation.

Other activities

The NGO has also distributed bed sheets and blankets to needy families. In one of the slums, 18 of the poorest families were given grants to start income-generating projects to enable them meet their children's needs.

PLA also organises annual domestic workers outreach workshops, especially in Kampala. The workshops aim at building employer/employee obligations and delivering greater equity in the informal and formal sectors.

PLA also provides litigation and dispute resolution. By 2004, the organisation's legal department had helped 640 clients, 250 of whom were domestic workers.

A total of 120 cases were amicably resolved and 199 cases were resolved administratively following service of demand notices on the employers. On the other hand, 60 merited conventional litigation and 13 cases were filed by the department in various courts.

Our clients are mainly vulnerable and marginalised employees such as construction workers, teachers, fuel pump attendants, casual labourers, market vendors and domestic workers.

The legal department has also hosted legal outreach clinics for domestic workers in collaboration with Children of Zion.

PLA also offers HIV/AIDS awareness in Kampala, Wakiso and Lira districts, where they educate communities about HIV and distribute condoms. According to Grace Lule, the assistant executive director, over 180 informal sector workers comprising 45 women, 75 children and 60 youth have received training on HIV/AIDS.

The organisation has also worked hand-in-hand with the community to produce informative posters to generate increased awareness and to target a wide audience. PLA also receives a grant from Canadian Development Agency for a project on HIV/ AIDS prevention and impact mitigation among the children, the youth and women working in the informal sector.

Under this project, the three groups each identified income-generating activities and 341 women, youth and children were trained on entrepreneurship skills and business management.

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