« 100 Years – 100 Lives » | UGANDA - “I still live with back pain because of my work as a child in a tea plantation”

Molly Namirembe was involved in child labour for two years in Uganda when she was just 11. She is still coping with the consequences and decided to share her story to help eradicate child labour.

Feature | Uganda | 13 August 2019
GENEVA - As she entered the UN building in Geneva to take part to the Centenary session of the International Labour Conference in June 2019, Molly Namirembe – a youth advocate from Uganda - could almost feel like she was in a dream. But this was real. She was about to deliver a strong call to put an end to child labour that destroyed part of her own childhood and that could have led her to a life in poverty.

“My experience in child labour lasted only for two years but it dominates all that I can remember about my childhood,” she said before taking part to an event marking World Day Against Child Labour in the Swiss city.

She was about 11 years-old when her mother died. Her father had also died a long time ago so Molly and her elder sister- aged 14 - had to take care of themselves on their own. The only way to find the money to survive was to go and work in a nearby tea plantation.

Exploited as a child

“It involved working for long hours, waking up in the early morning, collecting heavy baskets of tea with no break and sometimes with an empty stomach. I still live with back pain until today because I had to carry this heavy basket the whole day when I was only 11. I still have many scars from the insect bites. I was also inhaling the pesticide they were spreading,” she recalled.

Molly still managed to attend school when she had time but her sister had to drop out from school completely as she needed to work full time to support both of them. Molly is still thankful to her as she realized her sister sacrificed her education to take care of her.

“Nobody cared about our situation. People around us sometimes told us we were very courageous. However, they never minded that we were being exploited as children and never cared about our future. The money I was making at that time was so very little that it did not even cover my school fees. Because of this, I had to stop going to school for 3 months,” she added.

Following her dream

The turning point for Molly was precisely when she had to stop going to school for those 3 months because she could not pay for her school fees. She also noticed that her performance at school was declining because of her work at the tea plantation. She realized that she could not just mourn her mother’s death but, instead, she started to try and change her situation to follow her dream which was to study at university.

“I spoke with a few of my mother’s friends and they put me in touch with people from my father’s family I had never met since my dad died when I was a toddler. That’s when I met with my uncle who supported both my sister and myself. Unfortunately, it was too late for my sister to go back to school,” she explained.

Molly managed to reach her goal by going to university. She now holds a Bachelor's Degree in Social Work and Social Administration from Makerere University. However, she still feels bad for her sister and for all the children who were working with her on the tea plantation and who were not so lucky to success in life.
“I left everybody else behind, which is painful to me,” she said, bursting into tears.

Campaigning against child labour

However, despite her grief, Molly’s determination is as strong as ever. She decided to become a youth advocate and, every time she is given an opportunity, she shares her personal experience and explains why child labour should be eradicated.

As she was still a student at university, Molly contacted the ILO’s SCREAM programme in Uganda. She became a volunteer and then a children protection officer with the local NGO Somero Uganda working closely with the programme. She conducted many information campaigns to prevent child labour in the gold mines and in the slums of Kampala, Uganda’s capital city.

This time however, Molly was given an opportunity to deliver her advocacy message at the highest global level during a thematic forum on child labour organized by the ILO in Geneva.

“My message to the international community is not very different from the one I am trying to pass in Uganda. We can only end child labour if all stakeholders play their parts as their own level, whether they are children, parents, policy-makers or members of international bodies. Governments have ratified many international conventions on child labour. Let’s hold them accountable to implement them,” she concluded.

The ILO is currently stepping up efforts to eliminate child labour in Uganda, which is among countries covered by the new “ACCEL Africa” project. Its overreaching goal is to accelerate the elimination of child labour in Africa through targeted actions in selected supply chains. In Uganda, the focus will be on elimination of child labour in the tea and coffee supply chains.

Select a country or a theme