From classroom to community: Ugandan teachers' fight against child labour

Article | 25 October 2023
In her 23 years’ experience as a primary school teacher in Uganda, Loyce has been taking care of children’s educational needs. She has risen from a classroom teacher to now a head teacher of Nabumali Day Primary School, a remote primary school in Mbale District along the slopes of Mt. Elgon in the eastern part of Uganda. But now Loyce has a new agenda, the one of combating child labour in her community.
“I am now a soldier for the elimination of child labour”, she says. “This for me comes naturally. I have worked with children my entire life as a teacher. I have new energy now.” She adds.

Loyce’s love for children has recently received a fresh cloak. She is among a few teachers who form a critical mass of fighters against child labour. The ACCEL Africa project implemented by International Labour Organization (ILO) and funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, is working to address child labour in selected supply chains in Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria and Uganda. Its focus is on some of the most widely traded agricultural commodities. These include cocoa, coffee, cotton, tea and on gold.

Within ACCEL Africa “I have received two trainings which have opened my mind... I have come up with an action plan”. She asserts. “ Together with other teachers who have received a similar training, we have divided this area into six zones.” Loyce says. “In each of the zones, we have appointed a volunteer zonal leader to monitor the assigned territory and report any cases of child labour in that locality. The Zonal leader reports to us for action where need be”. She asserts gleefully.

They also have regular counselling and guidance sessions with the learners. They sensitise them on the dangers of child labour.
“We have also set up a team of teachers who follow u p learners who have been identified as perennial absentees from school”. Loyce says. “We then follow up on these learners. Usually, we find that they are engaged in the plantations and gardens providing labour to the parents or guardian”. She adds.

Loyce also invites individual parents engaged in the vice and talks to them about the dangers of child labour. She uses a wider forum at the parents’ teachers’ meetings, local council committee members and religious leaders. The school management committee together with the parent teachers’ association executive members have been pivotal in the fight.

“Where things have been really bad, we have engaged the police to assist us ”. Says Loyce and quickly adds; “I am also living by example. After the training I decided I will never employ domestic worker ever again at my home. We want children to be at school”. She says. “In our locality, that is another big consumer of child labour. If you find anybody employing a domestic worker, you are almost certain it will be a child”. She adds.

At the school, Loyce leads other teachers to employ a special methodology called Supporting Children’s Rights through Education, the Arts and the Media (SCREAM) to champion her cause. She has employed music, dance and drama as the necessary tools. And Loyce sends these messages to the parents through the learners.

The SCREAM programme developed by ILO aims to promote awareness among young people about children’s rights, with a focus on child labour, so that they in turn can speak out and mobilise their communities to act. Ultimately, SCREAM seeks to change social attitudes to promote a culture of respect for children’s rights and to strengthen the worldwide movement against child labour.

“I have found SCREAM one of the best methodologies in the fight against child labour, because it allows hands on learning”. She says. “We started with poetry. The children have composed poems speaking about child labour. We tell them to draw what they conceive to be child labour activities. And they write simple messages about these activities.” She adds. “We have what we call -Talking Compounds-. Here, the children display their poems and drawings on the subject. We have found is that peer to peer learning is such a powerful tool in the fight to against child labour”. Loyce says.

Loyce recommends that SCREAM should be embedded in all teacher training programs for integrated action against child at all levels learning.

“We need to give children a chance to stay in school, thrive and enjoy their childhood.” She says. 

“Apart from engaging children in hazardous domestic work, Mbale is a coffee producing area and children are engaged at every stage of the value chain”. Loyce says. “A vast majority of the parents here think their economic survival is hinged on the children as a source of cheap labour. Sadly, they are oblivious of the physical, psychological impact it has on their children and that is not mentioning that these children are missing out on school. To them, children are a source of sustenance.” She laments. Right from land preparation, planting, watering, wedding, pruning, harvesting, drying and packing the children are involved.

“We have a number of children who have come back to school. I have had to pull some children from home where they were engaged in child labour, and they are here now here and learning”. Loyce says. But above all, Loyce says gradually, awareness is being created and the parents see the value of keeping their children in school.

Loyce has now planned a number of activities at Nabumali Day Primary School where she will invite parents, the surrounding community members and opinion leaders. These activities that will include presentations by the learners that are aimed at creating awareness so that the community can prioritise elimination of child labour in the area.

“We want to forge a way forward by bringing everybody on board to address this matter. We will need to have follow up teams in place for constant monitoring”. She states.

Additionally, she recommends that effort needs to be geared toward drawing a clear line between light work and child labour. According to her that line is still blurred for many “If they can identify that and they go out with these messages, it will work us”. She concludes.

During the reporting period, in collaboration with Kyambogo University (KYU), the project supported the mainstreaming of child labour and SCREAM methodology into the professional studies curriculum for Diploma in Distance Education for in-service primary school teachers. The project in collaboration with KYU supported the capacity building of 35 Kyambogo University lecturers (19 men and 16 women) who will pilot the content on SCREAM and child labour under the Physical Education and Sports curriculum.