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Evaluation database

Evaluation report

2000 UGD: Armed Conflict, HIV/AIDS and Child Labour in Uganda

Author: Tumushabe, J.

Executive summary


In the design of the 2001-2005 Government of Uganda/UNICEF Country Programme, a human rights approach to programming was adopted. To ensure optimum attainment of the rights of children, emphasis was put on the need to address a range of human rights principles relating to children, with a view to ensure appropriate and realistic action is taken from national to household level. The Ministry of Labour and Social Development felt it necessary to collect benchmark data and information that will enhance its capacity to plan and develop strategies to ensure realisation of the rights of working children. In line with this, UNICEF and the Government of Uganda have included children orphaned and affected by AIDS, including those affected by armed conflict, many of whom are in a child labour situation.

Purpose / Objective

The rapid assessment is aimed at generating an overview of the child labour situation in two selected districts of Uganda. Emphasis is directed toward, but not limited to, exploring the relationship between child labour in domestic/family work, HIV/AIDS and armed conflict. More specifically, the assessment set out to:
- Identify the type of labour male and female children are involved in and areas of concentration in the two selected districts
- Make estimation on the magnitude of child labour after consulting key duty bearers at district, sub-county, parish, and community levels
- Assess factors prompting children to be pushed to work
- Study the working conditions and terms of service for domestic/family work as well as work outside the home environment
- Assess the relationship between the child labourers and their parental families and/or remaining relatives
- Assess the quantity and quality of basic services available including education,
- Determine the physical, moral and psychological well-being of the studied children, with specific focus on orphans and children affected by armed conflict
- Prepare a final report on the qualitative and quantitative indicators of rights realisation and/or lack of realisation by the studied children


The multi-faceted and inter-related issues of domestic work, HIV/AIDS and armed conflicts required a mixed method approach. The qualitative data were gathered using informant interviews with key duty bearers at district, sub-county, parish, and village levels. In-depth interviews were carried out with selected children in and out of school but already working. Focus group discussions were conducted with working children both in and out of school, parents/guardians, teachers and community leaders. A semi-coded survey questionnaire was administered to a total of 297 children in and out of school in four parishes in each district.

Key Findings and Conclusions

The high rates of HIV/AIDS-related morbidity and mortality have manifested itself into a high proportion of orphans within the child population of Lira and Kabarole Districts. Many of the AIDS orphans in both districts lack basic care and protection, and have to fend for themselves for minimum survival. The number of orphans involved and the fact of general poverty in most families have stretched to the limit the household capacity to cope with the rising mass of AIDS orphans. Government's and other duty bearers' bold steps to address some of the constraints to orphans' needs, such as the UPE programme, are increasingly getting challenged by the lack of basic household care and hence the affected children are torn between staying in school and starving. Often, the physical condition of the orphans in terms of clothing and non-fees inputs into schooling is a dis-incentive for continued schooling. Inevitably, many such children are forced to join the growing mass of job seekers, who are easily exploited by employers.

In Lira and Kabarole districts, there has been intermittent insecurity and insurgency for the last 15 and 4 years, respectively. This has resulted into mass displacement, extreme poverty, increased food insecurity and inevitability of child labour.

Like HIV/AIDS, armed conflict is increasing the number of single-parent children and orphans. The capacity of the extended family system to cope with an increasing number of orphans from AIDS is stretched to the limit when armed conflict occurs. First, the would-be caregivers are themselves in need of care after displacement from their means of production. They are also often critically concerned about their own personal survival and that of their immediate family that taking on an additional burden of looking after other children or families in need is difficult. The situation of insecurity, poverty, and food deprivation created by armed conflict makes it difficult to cater to orphans.

Resulting from the lack of parents or parents who have no means of supporting, children are forced to work to meet their own needs. Even in those internally-displaced person's (TJDP) camps where some supplies have been availed by the civic community, the basics are often in short supply, leading many children to have to fend for themselves. Most orphans caught in the spiral of armed conflict cannot easily meet their own basic needs and are at the brink of despair.

Children in areas of armed conflict and HIV/AIDS situation find their rights, like the right to education (CRC 1989, Article 28), seriously abused. The insecurity simply makes it difficult for a household to function normally and leaves many, including children, to struggle for their survival. Articles, like articles 15 on child labour, 27 on sexual exploitation, 22 on armed conflict, of the OAU character on rights and welfare of the child (1990) as well as articles 18,7,31,32,34 and 38 CRC (198) are also contravened.

With regard to the girl child, their vulnerability to the work environment is particularly dangerous, be it from their employers or from the persons that are supposed to offer them protection. Guardians and parents faced with extreme situations of poverty, such as under AIDS and armed conflict, often put in place conditions that force these girls into early marriage or the search for work at a vulnerable age. The soldiers in internally displaced camps or guarding villages where whole populations have fled, find girls an easy prey to rape or bait with paltry sums of cash. The Local Council System in these situations is either non-functional or under threat from the new power blockers - the soldiers or home-guards. For those that have migrated to towns and fishing villages to seek work, maintenance of their job is sometimes subject to sexual servitude to their employers and any other male relatives, or the clientele. Many cases of the violation of the sexual rights of female employees are never reported and, where they are reported, little is ever done to punish the culprits. If anything, the girls and women end up being punished through ridicule and/or loss of their jobs. All the above poise an additional danger of HIV infection or/and unwanted pregnancy for the girls.

While Uganda has a Children's Statute (1996) in place, without a strong implementation mechanism and specific national orphan or/and child labour policy, the rights of the children will become difficult to realise. The existing inexplicit policies with regard to child labour, such as UPE, the minimum Age for Marriage and the Uganda Constitution (1995), are constrained or not definitive enough to cover all abuses inherent in child labour, especially with regard to the most vulnerable classes of children mentioned above. Uganda is yet to ratify the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 No. 138 and the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, No. 182. It is important to note that ratification of these will provide the necessary policy framework for the legal formulation and implementation of activities.

The development of policies and legal frameworks to safeguard the rights of AIDS widows and orphans, as well as a comprehensive policy framework that protects children in armed conflict and AIDS from exploitation, will need to be put in place and enforced. The Government of Uganda and her social partners will, therefore, need to move fast not only to ratify international Conventions related to Child Labour, but also to set up a national framework for their implementation.

Since the primary challenge of addressing the problem of child labour lies in the elimination of poverty, the most vulnerable families, such as those suffering the consequences of armed conflict and HIV/AIDS, will need steps that, rather than facilitate charitable actions, ensure the development of a solid base for keeping the poverty threat at bay. In addition, vital, albeit, expensive approaches targeting homes of children in armed conflict and HIV/AIDS aimed at reducing the impact of poverty and increasing the realisation of children's rights are urgently required.

The problem of child labour is a clear manifestation of the society's gaps in the realisation of children's rights. There are many actual and potential players in addressing the inherent gaps of children's rights, but the mechanism for co-ordinating these efforts at national, district, community and family levels is weak. This is an asset to build on in the sense that, with Child Labour, the task is far too wide to be managed by a single or even small group of duty bearers or organisations. It is, therefore, recommended that the lead agencies advocating for the realisation of children's rights strengthen the co-ordination mechanism at all the levels. Addressing the child labour problem in armed conflict and HIV/AIDS situations provides an opportunity for taking the first comprehensive co-ordinated step in the realisation of children's rights among the most vulnerable children. A co-ordinated approach will clearly identify the gaps both in geographical coverage and in terms of the need for inputs.

Some of the duty bearers are not aware of their duties. Others do not even know the children's rights or that they are actually violating them. Many children do not even know their rights or how to ensure that they are respected. Where this knowledge exists, the desperate situations created by armed conflict and AIDS, together with the break-up of social order entailed in these two situations, tends to limit action in this field. The argument that children cannot be protected from child labour because there are no better alternatives only serves to prolong the plight of working children, even bringing more children into the realm of child labour. It is, therefore, recommended that, as an immediate step, a nation-wide strategy for creating awareness on child labour be undertaken by all duty bearers, especially at the national and district levels. At the moment, awareness creation in several districts is still lacking and will need to be strengthened. The role of the mass media, the schools, employment organisations and the leadership of informal sector activities in this awareness creation strategy cannot be overemphasised.

The majority of the working children in Uganda are in the non-formal sector. The challenge remains in identifying the best strategy for involving the communities in identifying and implementing strategies that will lead to the removal of the demand for child labour. The challenge is even more critical in the environment of HIV/AIDS and armed conflict where child-fostering requirements "are as acute as the labour shortage to sustain minimum survival for the children and those forced to be under their care." The triple A (Assessment, Analysis and Action) strategy of UNICEF and its emphasis on working with the communities as well as other duty bearers (non-governmental organisations) should be able to address this intricate problem. However, its success will depend much on the skills of the implementers as it will on the resources availed for the integration of the elimination of child labour abuses in the existing programmes of UNICEF.

Addressing sexual abuse, early pregnancy and marriage for children in armed conflict and HIV/orphans -- If the bold steps towards UPE and the attendant protection of children, especially girls, from premature entry into child labour are to be realised, special targeting is necessary. At the moment, the high incidences of sexual harassment as those mentioned in the findings above, coupled with gender insensitive handling of girls approaching puberty and adulthood, high cases of pregnancy, unethical behaviour on the part of teachers, currently need to be addressed in schools. Setting-up and enforcing regulations for all schools governing the ethical conduct of teachers, gender awareness training as well as specialised training in counselling and guidance for a senior teacher in every school, will help in creating a forum for the discussion of the problem and guidance of pupils and teachers. Other measures such as community sensitisation and tougher legislation against offenders are required for reassuring parents/guardians that their children will not be sexually harassed whilst at school or within the communities.

Particularly worrisome in this study was the phenomenon of girl-child marriages and child bearing. This was found to be largely due to the weak community protection system as well as the guardian's desire for dowry. Lack of counselling and guidance, loss of faith in education as a vehicle for personal advancement and pressure from male dropouts compound the problem. Necessary reforms to address this problem include widening the scope of gender training among all teachers, improving counselling in all schools and setting up the post of senior teacher who should be equipped with skills and motivation to undertake the challenging task. In addition, public sensitisation and media campaigns, increasing opportunities for training women in secondary schools and at higher levels through affirmative action, attaching proportions of tax relief to investments that employ a percentage of women in top positions are needed to sensitise society about the possibilities and need for educating girls rather than exposing them to child labour.

While education on children's rights to protection from sexual abuse needs to be extended to parents/guardians, children, soldiers and other members of the society is important, having an effective mechanism for punishing offenders is equally important. Existing laws on defilement are either unknown or have been ignored by employers, soldiers in internally displaced people's camps, plantation workers, teachers or parents.


The government of Uganda UPE programme has gone a long way in providing alternatives for millions of children who would be prematurely thrown into the situation of work. However, its ultimate success will depend a lot on raising the quality of education, reducing absenteeism and stemming the school dropouts. For the armed conflict areas and communities highly affected by HIV/AIDS, possible strategies to effect these include:

Sustaining the demand for primary schooling at the household level - Primary education alone provides limited opportunities for salaried employment and improved household income. Improved access to post-primary schooling will, therefore, increase the demand for primary schooling. Providing affordable and accessible secondary education through the proposed construction of a day-secondary school in every sub-county will, in the long run, increase secondary level enrolment and, thus, reduce child labour. Other measures related to this will include providing tax waivers to private, secondary school operators and the abolition/reduction of taxes on secondary school inputs.

Improving Quality of Schooling - This will involve a series of pragmatic undertaking by all stakeholders. Measures to make the school environment more conducive than the child labour environment will have to be adopted. Among these, enhancing teachers' conditions of service (improvement of teachers' salaries, prompt payment of salaries, reduction in bottlenecks in appointments, transfers and promotions; rewards and recognition for serving well in difficult areas, providing accommodation and targeting micro-finance schemes for teachers) are paramount. Others will include reduction in the high pupil-to-teacher ratio (currently above one teacher to 50 pupils and in excess of 1 teacher to 100 pupils in some schools), increased allocation to learning materials and operating expenses and reducing pupil-textbook ratios. In addition, increasing the number of classrooms and furniture, sensitising parents/guardians and communities about the need for improved nutrition and health care for school children, provision of school-child food supplements (such as Vitamin A, iodine etc.) in areas severely affected by child malnutrition, and increased inspection of schools, especially in areas of armed conflict and high HIV/AIDS mortality rates, will encourage children to stay longer in schools.

Adopting gender sensitive reforms in education - Higher rates of absenteeism, inadequate time for homework or leisure, and lateness in coming to school are testimonies to child labour and the relatively higher opportunity costs of girls' schooling, in particular. In addition, the particularly sensitive field of child sexual abuse associated with the school and out-of-school environment for the orphans and the female children in armed conflict situations. UNICEF is at the forefront of supporting government efforts toward enhancing the participation of the girl child in schooling in Uganda, demonstrated in such activities as the promotion of the Sara Communications Initiative and the support to the design of the National Strategy for Girls' Education in Uganda.

The above efforts notwithstanding, there are gender inequalities in persistence and performance in school especially for the orphans and girls in armed conflict areas, which will call for measures that go beyond those currently available. Such education, gender-equalizing reforms as improved food security for these children, enhancing access to auxiliary (non-fees) school inputs and requirements, parental/guardian sensitization about the benefits of girls' schooling, more flexible time tabling, remedial classes, providing a school-based homework hour will help to improve opportunities for girls' schooling.

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