The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Child Labour On the Rise in Huye

Huye — DESPITE the mechanisms put in place to combat child labour, underage children are still involved in exploitive and hazardous economic activities in some parts of the country, The New Times has established.

A mini-survey carried out in some parts of Huye town revealed that many children, some as young as seven years of age, are involved in numerous activities in the town and its suburbs.

It was found that dozens of children spend days doing odd jobs for survival.

Their precise number is not officially documented, but traders in the main town market and some local residents estimate that 100 children are engaged in child labour in town.

Most of them survive by carrying foodstuff and other merchandise from or to the town centre, a service for which they are paid very little.

Some of these children are under 10 years of age and have dropped out of school to just engage in such activities.

Many earn less than Rwf500 a day.

Child labour is described as any work preventing children from attending school or the work involving hazardous or excessive hours.

According to the Rwandan labour law, the minimum age for a person to be involved in economic activities is 16 years.

Some of these children spend nights on the streets after the day's work.

According to them, some came from as far as Nyaruguru and Gisagara districts and have made domicile out of the town's alleys-a version corroborated by local leaders.

However, despite their numerous differences in terms of aspirations, where they came from and the reasons that pushed them to engage into the activities, they all share the same life: that of working hard than their age allows and earning so little out of it.

Most of them claim that poverty in their respective families is the reason they are engaging in the activities.

One of the children, only identified as Willy, told this newspaper that he hails from Save sector, in the neighbouring Gisagara district.

He claims to have engaged in the activities because he had no choice.

"My mother had abandoned me; she was not really caring for me. She even forced me out of school," Willy alleges.

"Under those conditions, I had no choice rather than taking the affairs into my own hands," the young boy, who looks younger than ten, narrates.

"Here, I survive by carrying goods for people. At the end of a day if I get little money, I thank God."

Emmanuel Nsengiyumva, another young boy who works in the market, says despite carrying foodstuff, he also engages in small chores such as cleaning the compound and fetching water 'for the rich'.

"But I have hope that one day I will have enough money," he optimistically says.

"If a lot of kids are engaging in these activities, it is because they are in desperate conditions. We are all running after money and we can only get it through such activities," he claims.

And, like everyone else, Nsengiyumva dreams for a brighter future.

"If God allows and that I get money, I will become a businessman," young boy says.

Hard life

But, unlike the kids who are just working for survival, others are trying to raise money to fund their education for the next academic year.

These, in most cases, come from around Huye town and return home late in the evening. In their pockets, just a few coins of money they earned from the hard labour.

"You cannot sit and relax while you do not have food to eat or when you don't see any way you will get exercise books for the next [academic] year," claims of the kids, who asked not to be named.

For those still at school, it is hard to share their experience may be because they think it is better not to reveal their conditions to their schoolmates.

Even when they share, they hardly give their identities.

But one of them accepted to share his experience.

Jean de Dieu Shabani, a secondary school student, says his life has compelled him to do the activities.

"This is my sole source of money," he says. "Suppose I stopped doing this, I would no longer get scholastic materials."

"My parents do not have the capacity to meet all my needs, so I have to work to generate some little money for my education."

Shabani, with experience, says he can earn between one and two thousand Rwandan francs a day.

Shabani works as a porter even during school days.

"When we are studying, I come here after class," the young man who lives on the outskirts of Huye town, says.

"I am used to these activities...but that is life, you know," he jokes.

But, in such a situation Shabani confesses that he does not perform well in class as he would be doing in case he was not struggling with life.

"You cannot concentrate on your lessons well and you cannot perform well," he says. "

Apart from the children-transporters, other kids in the same age bracket are involved in other activities including sale of envelopes, food packages or bags. Others are involved in the sale of airtime.

The Huye Vice Mayor in charge of Social Affairs Christine Niwemugeni told The New Times that measures are being undertaken to ensure that the rights of children are respected.

She blamed poverty for the trend and said sustaining families can have a big impact on limiting the number of children engaging in exploitative activities.

"This [child labour] is a serious issue but we are committed to addressing it," she said.

"Poverty is its root cause and addressing it will eliminate child labour."

She faulted some parents for failing to cater for their children or "at worst sending them into such activities."

"Some parents are sending their children to work for money," she said. "We want parents to be responsible and take care of their children."

She noted that leaders had on several occasions met with residents to discuss the issue as a way of putting an end to child labour.

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