Friday, 1 August 2014

STOP CHILD LABOR: Neighborhood Assembly Appeals

It is absurd that we leave our own gardens at home to till the school garden instead of studying. I came to school to study and not to dig...digging soils our uniforms and yet we have to stay in uniform the whole day.” laments Annet Kabugho a primary six pupil while Jimmy Baluku (not real names), a primary five pupil says “I am disappointed in the teachers who make us dig in the morning instead of studying, yet they expect us to pass like pupils in other schools. We use a lot of energy in the morning and yet stay hungry all day since the school doesn’t provide lunch and few of the pupils can afford to pack lunch. It is not easy to work and study on an empty stomach every day. I am forced to doze off in the afternoon because of the fatigue, hunger and heat
Annet Kabugho conveying her message in a song during the Neighbourhood Assembly.

These are the voices of pupils at Kinyamaseka primary school in Munkunyu Sub County, Kasese district that had for the past 6 months been subjected to tilling the school farm instead of studying. According to monitoring reports by KALI (an IDF grantee) working in the area, a total of 560 pupils (286 males&304 females) between primary three and seven classes worked on the school’s 4 acre maize farm every morning from 8:00am to 11:00am. This is more than a half of the school because the school’s enrolment is of 753 pupils (371 males and 382 females). 

Whereas the introduction of school gardens initiative by SNV (where the school gardens work as demonstration gardens) is good because it is geared at promoting food productivity at house hold level and also provide food for the teachers; the practice is cheating children of their study hours which will consequently lead to poor grades. Monitoring reports indicated that pupil absenteeism had gone high especially in the morning hours, as most pupils tended to stay at home for fear of working on the school garden. According to the head teacher, Mr. Bathlemew the initial strategy of school gardening looked at parents as the source of labor but because of their limited support towards school activities, the school resorted to using the pupils partly because the garden is the school’s agriculture demonstration garden. “...this is a demonstration farm for agriculture lessons, and community farmers; it is a source of income for the school and food for the teachers the head teacher noted.

Worried about the future of their children, parents used Kinyamaseke Tukolerehaghuma Women Association (KITWA) Neighbourhood Assembly (NA) sitting on 12th May 2014 to discuss their grievances and appeal to the sub county leaders (the LCIII Chairman Hon. Josephat Bwambale and the Sub County Chief Mr. Biminya Francis) present to intervene and ban child labour at Kinyamaseke primary school. I am disappointed at the way the school is exploiting our children, using them on the farm during the best hours of the day when they would be concentrating in class. Some pupils have started dodging school because they fear to participate in this mandatory activity- this must stop asserted Sadik a parent, during the neighbourhood assembly. Responding to the parents’ concern, the LCIII Chairman and the Sub County Chief condemned the act saying it was pushing children out of school instead of encouraging them to study. They promised to work with the school to stop this ugly practice with immediate effect. Speaking at the assembly, the head teacher apologised to the parents for this practice and also promised to stop it immediately. He however asked parents to support this school project and provide labour in any way they can. 

KALI has since been visiting the school to follow up on their commitment to end child labour and to sensitize the teachers and school management to devise other means of finding labour for the farming activities at the school. KALI learnt that the school has stopped this practice; children are now attending classes regularly from morning to evening without disruption.

Neighbourhood assemblies are community based forums composed of community members and local leaders who sit regularly to discuss pertinent issues affecting their community and also suggest/identify solutions to them. KALI is using this neighbourhood assembly strategy to implement its IDF funded project “promoting human rights and good governance in Kasese”.