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The strength of the "we": this is how Uganda is joining efforts to tackle child labour

The Global Conference for the Elimination of Child Labour will take place this year for the first time on African soil, and organisations like ECLA Uganda will be able to share how they are tackling the problem. In advance, Eddie Wambewo, its Executive Director, spoke with us about their collaborative efforts to raise awareness, implement policies and support communities.

When Eddie Wambewo is asked how long he has been working to fight child labour, he has to do the math. "About fifteen years" he finally says. Long enough to know about the commitment, dedication, and work that is involved. The current Executive Director of ECLA (formerly ECLT Uganda) is straight to the point when explaining the extent of child labour in Uganda, which amounts to over two million children.

“Poverty numbers are high and during the pandemic, many people lost their jobs. Those who were working in the supply chains couldn’t earn any money and that meant that many of their children were in the streets or in the fields working”.

And yet recently, after two years, Uganda announced the reopening of its classrooms, but many children were not interested in going back to school. “Some of them asked their teachers if they can study for half day and not the whole day” Wambewo recalls. This makes it clear that the impact is deeper and more complex than is often realised, especially in the context of the pandemic, which, according to the latest global estimates published by ILO and UNICEF, has seen in the first increase in 20 years. “It is true that global numbers are going up, and in sub-Saharan countries like Uganda, the problem is getting worst” Eddie points out.

Awareness is the beginning of change

Is it difficult to maintain the commitment with these new estimates on the table? According to Eddie, ECLA has been working hard with different actors and companies to ensure that children are not displaced from one crop to another, or from one area to another.

“We use an area-based approach, where our interventions target all the forms of child labour within a specific area, and then we involve each relevant actor with the aim of raising awareness together, putting policies in place, and supporting the communities”. But, achieving long-term commitment to cross-sectoral collaboration is a recurring challenge for those fighting against child labour. How have they overcome this?

At this point, coordinated efforts, coordination mechanisms and legal frameworks seems to be part of one powerful puzzle. “Coordination is very important because it helps to maximise efforts of different actors, to avoid duplications of services, and to stop the displacement of child labour from one sector to another”. ECLA has achieved this by engaging every actor in two ways: highlighting how child labour violates children's rights and raising awareness of its devastating effects, as well as showing what it means for the country's overall sustainable development. “The first point, and very important, is that people understand that child labour is a violation of children rights to education, and it has a serious impact on their potential” says Eddie, who argues that there is a correlation between education and the creation of decent work in the future. "If a country has a skilled workforce, a qualified workforce, it would mean economic growth for the country” sets out.

Then there are the partnership mechanisms that are enhanced through recurrent and broad-based social dialogue. ECLA has managed to open channels with various stakeholders, from government and employers, to trade unions and workers associations. By working together, they have successfully put in place a legal framework, shared good practices, and widened the scope of the debate.

The third element is the relevance of the legal framework. It refers to Uganda's Plan on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour 2020/21 - 2024/25, which was adapted in May 2021, in a world first, to meet the new challenges posed by COVID-19. With the NAP and the child labour policy in place, businesses and other actors and companies have roads and possibilities to ensure that they protect children and also that they give back to the community where they are working.

Together, now more than ever

In coordination efforts, mechanisms, and legal frameworks, a deeper transformation is envisioned, one that goes beyond supply chains. For Eddie the biggest challenge, after poverty, is the mindset. “Child labour is something that is accepted in our country, although we have the legal framework in place, we have seen its persistent existence. Change will only be possible if the community understands the magnitude of the problem, how it will impact the children, and what they can do to support the children."

This is why it is so relevant that for the first time in history, the V Global Conference for the Elimination of Child Labour takes place in an African country (South Africa). According to Eddie, "It's coming to a source of the problem. It takes us to showcase the problems that we have and how we are handling them. It is an opportunity to prove that we are able to share the challenges, the good practices, and the success stories with the rest of the world” he assures. After all this time, Eddie Wambewo knows that child labour manifests itself in different ways and that eliminating it requires a great deal of effort. But he also knows that “together we can handle this problem”. And we trust those words.

This article was written by guest contributor and social media consultant Santiago Sanchez