Including the perspective of survivors of child labour is crucial in shaping policy, writes Winnie Nyandiga, 100 Million's Africa Coordinator and lead staff member for the Fair Share to End Child Labour campaign in Africa
The world has been warned that immediate action must be taken to prevent further rises in child labour. With 160 million children forced to work to survive even before the pandemic, and a projected increase to 168 million by the end of 2022, activists are coming together to call for urgent and accelerated efforts to end child labour. Among the most powerful voices are survivors, who are taking a central role in the Fair Share to End Child Labour campaign.
"The lady told my mother that she was taking me to the city for a better life and education. I couldn’t refuse to go with her because my mother had already agreed. We traveled to another stranger’s place in Mbagala and I was told that would be my new home. I had expected to be taken to school but that was just but a dream. I later learned that I was there to work as a house help. The lady that took me from my mother, kept moving me from one house and one town to another as she got paid through my toil. Later, a Good Samaritan who noticed my miseries came to my rescue and it was a police case... that is how I was rescued."
Teresia, 14, a survivor of child trafficking and forced child labour in Tanzania.
Teresia is one of a multitude of young survivors who have become passionate advocates to end child labour. Survivors’ stories and perspectives on how laws and policies failed them are at the heart of the coalition-driven Fair Share to End Child Labour campaign, for which 100 Million is coordinating the youth-led strand.
The campaign in Tanzania actively works with groups of survivors. On the World Day Against Child Labour in June this year, campaigners from Fair Share in Tanzania hosted an event with local decision-makers: the mayor and a local councillor met survivors of child labour, who are now in vocational education and selling their textile work to support the work of their local operations (image left).
We believe that political events involving decision-makers are more meaningful and more likely to lead to real action when young people with lived experience are at the table. The involvement of survivors drives home the real impact of weak, underfunded law-making and policies, and proposed interventions are flawed if they do not take into account the experiences of the survivors subjected to this exploitation.
Effective, efficient, and community-driven communication systems which leverage community leaders, volunteer health workers and public mediums such as local radio and news as well as films, are an important way to ensure the voices of the survivors are factored in.
David, a nine-year-old boy from Kenya (image left), is still trapped in child labour. He was forced into work when his mother’s income shrank during the pandemic. David and his mother agreed to be filmed by the Fair Share team in Kenya so that their voices could join the campaign.
“I’m in Class 3 at Silver Plate School. I come to the dump site to work in order to make money. Sometimes my mother gets a casual job, sometimes she doesn’t. So, the dollar I make, I give half to the household and I save the other half. It is not safe here… sometimes I get wounds."
David is just one of the millions of 5-11 year-olds who have had to support their families’ income during the pandemic. However, this ‘fall back’ position of children going into child labour is unacceptable, even in times of crisis, and it exists because of the longstanding, underlying factors of exploitation and exclusion from public support and services. COVID-19 has worsened child labour in terms of access to education, health care, and decent work for adults, but recovery from the pandemic has to be based on the acknowledgement that none of these things were reliable for the worst-affected families in the first place.
Wilfred Munene is 16 years old and comes from Meru County, Kenya. Wilfred started working in khat farming when he was 10 years old, and now goes from farm to farm to ensure he is getting paid work to support his family. He wakes up at 5am to get this kind of work – since the pandemic, the income from his family farm is no longer enough to keep food on the table.
“Right now, schools are closed due to coronavirus. There is no food and no money to buy clothes. It forces you to work in the farms... I have to work to survive."
The bundle of khat Wilfred (image left) is carrying is worth $2. Some groups of children are particularly vulnerable to child labour and trafficking, including children and young people from displaced communities – most of them from countries that do not have functional governments, and for refugee children, their need for protection from labour is barely considered in their host countries.
For example, in Uganda, thirteen districts play host to refugees. This is about 1.4 million refugees, the highest population in Africa and the third highest in the world. Yet, while the country embarked to review and revise the development of the National Action Plan – which resulted in the National Action Plan (II) that takes into account the harsh realities imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic - refugees were not involved. The Fair Share campaign team in Uganda is in discussions with refugee-led groups to ensure this critical gap is closed.
Youth activists, student leaders, civil society organisations, and business and faith leaders are all working together to ensure that child labour is tackled in every parliament in every country during this historical year. Parliaments play a key role in helping ensure that COVID-19 recovery includes the strengthening of policies and allocation of budgets so that they truly serve everyone, starting with those most in need, and are fully grounded in existing human rights standards.
At the centre of the Fair Share to End Child Labour campaign is the commitment to ensure active participation of survivors to directly inform decision-makers about their lived experiences, and to demand justice. Prioritising their first-hand experiences and making sure their experiences and opinions contribute towards advocacy, shaping policies, budgets, and social protection, ensures that survivors are not only recipients of outcomes crucial for effective responses, but are also primary contributors to the efforts to fight child labour. The campaign’s survivor-advocates will continue to take take centre-stage in parliamentary and international events.