Child labour weighs down pupils dreams

By Wachira Kigotho
East Africa Standard 14/04/2010

You possibly do not consider your children as beasts of burden, but working long hours doing chores such as collecting water and firewood is creating conditions for them to drop out of school.

There is concern that many pupils, especially in rural areas, are spending too much time collecting scarce resources instead of schooling. The situation is worsened by scarcity of firewood and water because of environmental degradation.

Mr Simon Wagura, a PhD candidate at University of Gothenburg in Sweden and Dr Wilfred Nyangena, a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi, say there is a direct link between availability of resources and school attendance and performance.

In a study in Lari, Ndeiya and Kikuyu in Kiambu, the two labour experts find that children and women bear the burden of collecting scarce resources such as water and wood. They spend too much time looking for the resources due to massive decline of wood and water. The problem is not only in Kiambu but also in many other parts of the country. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep), wanton deforestation in catchment areas of Aberdares, Mt Kenya, Mt Elgon and Mau Complex have been going on over the years.

“Loss of fuel-wood and water is now catching up with communities that in the past depended on forest resources,” says a Unep report on Kenya.

Absent from school

Children’s education could be enhanced if men joined women in collecting water and firewood and doing other chores at home.
Statistics collected from various households show children are heavily used in collection of firewood and water.

In most circumstances, pupils, especially girls, were absent from school because of collecting firewood or water. Besides collecting firewood and water for domestic use, pupils also collect the resources for sale in the local market to boost incomes.

Although, traditionally domestic work constituted a large part of children’s tasks, labour experts are worried that it is slowly turning into child labour. The researchers find that 63 per cent of the school age going children collect water while 41 per cent fetch firewood.

“On average 59 per cent of the sampled children participate in collection of water or firewood or both,” says Wagura, the principal researcher.

The study that was carried last year show children were on average spending four hours to collect some of those resources, especially firewood. In some households girls dropped out of school to ease the burden of resource collection by other siblings.

Bearing in mind the linkage established by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) between poor school outcomes and child labour, the current study is significant since it shows the number of children whose education is affected by child labour has increased.

Despite free primary education, there are about two million children aged between five and 14 years that are still locked out of school. In a comprehensive study entitled: Investing in Every Child: An Economic Study of the Costs and Benefits of Eliminating Child Labour, ILO says formal school enrolment alone is not sufficient to realising full benefits of education. “Parents must be made to understand that education is the most compelling and potential alternative to full-time work for children below 18 years,” says Frans Roselaers, an ILO leading specialist on child labour.

Hazardous occupations

The report says millions of children are in forced labour, prostitution and other illicit activities. About 760,000 children in Kenya are engaged in hazardous work.

“Examination of school progress reports showed children who collected firewood or water daily rarely completed school homework,” says Wagura.

The study finds that most of the children who were more involved in resource collection were from public schools. To reduce child labour researchers suggest improvement of provision of water and fuel facilities to rural communities. For instance, increasing water taps in villages may reduce the time children spend queuing for water. “Modern energy facilities such as liquidated petroleum gas and solar energy could provide time for children to study,” says Wagura.

The findings imply that education of children can be enhanced through change in cultural attitudes towards encouraging men’s involvement in resource collection.

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