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Improving incomes and empowering women – a killer combo in the fight against child labour

Poverty is considered one of the most important causes of child labour, if not the greatest. At troubled times, when already disadvantaged families in rural agricultural communities are faced with financial difficulties children are often those most affected. Their education, food security, and health can be in jeopardy as a result, and child labour can change from being a threat to reality.

On the flip side, when families are financially empowered, particularly women and mothers, they are far more likely to invest in their children’s education and remove them from any potentially dangerous work in the fields. In this article, we will be explaining why investing in the financial empowerment of rural families, and more specifically women, is such a powerful tool in the elimination of child labour.

How can we financially empower rural communities?

The simple answer is by supporting community members to save, loan, and invest. How do we do this? Through Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs). VSLAs have been proven to strengthen rural households’ financial management by providing their members with access to credit to invest in their basic needs, small businesses, and their children’s futures. Above all, VSLAs support families to have something to fall back on in case of a financial shock (as a result of poor harvest, illness, or so on).

When women are financially empowered, children are safe

Most VSLAs have a much higher proportion of women. In our previous Social Return on Investment Studies, women shared that some learned to read and write as a result, others started their own business, built a new home, one lady even shared that the VSLA group helped her gain confidence in public speaking, and she became a local politician as a result. But one thing that consistently stands across from VSLA groups around the world is that women who are financially empowered almost always invest in their children. One study in Brazil showed that the likelihood of a child’s survival increased by 20% when the mothers managed the household income . This is one of the reasons why VSLAs can be an effective tool to tackle child labour.

Scaling up VSLAs

VSLAs have been a cornerstone of ECLT’s projects particularly in rural Sub-Saharan Africa where remote communities are less likely to be able to access formal financial services. The Foundation has carried out many baseline assessments and final evaluations at various phases of our projects, all of which consistently noted that VSLA was a best practice to help families get their children into school and away from dangerous work. In fact, in the SROI study in Uganda the independent evaluator found for that each 1 USD invested in VSLAs, around 12 USD of social value was generated.

Throughout the past year, over 1,650 saving groups have been formed across three countries (Malawi, Mozambique and Uganda), including Youth VSLA groups. Youth VSLAs teach teens and young people who are legally old enough to work to save and invest by encouraging them to record and track their spending.

Examples from Uganda

In the Hoima and Kikuube districts of Uganda alone, 341 VSLA groups have been created since January 2019. More than 10,200 caregivers have been trained on financial education and are currently involved and saving together – therefore improving their households’ finances. In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by the project team in Uganda, 98% of adults involved in VSLA groups confirmed an increase in income as a result of joining a VSLA group. Several of these VSLA groups even established social funds to support vulnerable children and those without parents with school uniforms, textbooks, and school stationary.

VSLA groups in Uganda can also choose to register as a community based organisation, a legal entity which makes them eligible for support from Government programmes such as the Agriculture Cluster Development Project . This programme provides farmers with seeds and other agricultural inputs, as well as with technical support from Government’s extension workers. In 2021, ECLT’s project in Uganda has supported the official registration of 135 of VSLA groups.

Improving incomes and empowering women – a killer combo to fight child labour

Poverty is and will always be a root cause of child labour. This is why it is crucial that initiatives aimed at tackling child labour focus first and foremost on improving household incomes. Without this, investing in communities may be redundant because parents and families most often only resort to child labour when they have no other choice but to supplement the family income to cover their basic needs.

Women are arguably the most powerful change-makers in the fight against child labour. When they are provided with the tools they need, women, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, neighbours will invest in children’s future, which in turn will benefit the entire community. This International Women’s Day we are sharing our appreciation for the millions of women who are stepping up in their communities, and investing their time and money to protect children