With schools closed for most of the time over the past two years due to COVID-19 related restrictions, Koech Kipsiele, 13, was forced to work to help the family to bring food to the table.
On the eve of World Day Against Child Labor being observed on Saturday, Kipsiele told Anadolu Agency that he has to work on a farm full day as his parents have gone into huge debt due to pandemic restrictions.
“I have to help on the farm, even if I didn’t want to, there is nothing to do apart from play and help the family, to collect tea … and also look after the plants,” he said.
Every day after a bowl of porridge in the morning, he works hard in the farms braving the scorching sun till lunch followed by a few hours of play with his friends, and then returns to do the rest of the farm work.
He has continued the routine, even as the schools have reopened in the country.
In the maize farms spread in Western Kenya, it is a common sight to see children working in the hot sun. In the semi-arid lands of Northern Kenya, children have been seen grazing cattle and other livestock, instead of going to schools.
In Machakos County, children like Nduku Kiloko, 12, join their families to work in stone quarries, dealing with explosives instead of shouldering a school bag.
“We work all day, we don’t play, yes we can go to play if we wanted to but then we would not have anything to eat. We have to help the family,” she said.
Despite a ban on employing children, her mother Anne Ndunge said she needs children to help to feed the family.
“I used to work as a house help, my boss, who was working with a non-governmental organization lost the job and left the country. That means we needed more hands to work to feed our family, everyone in the village does this, it is no secret,” she said.
On the streets of the Kenyan capital Nairobi, a sight that one can never miss is that of female street beggars with children. The women do not do anything but wait for the children to beg on their behalf.
– School closure affects children
Numerous organizations have reported an increase in child labor after the pandemic outbreak.
According to research conducted by the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) in four counties in Kenya, many children were affected when the schools were closed because the majority of the parents in the were either self-employed in the informal sector were small-time farmers generating minimal incomes.
Besides working in family farms, other sectors like construction, sand harvesting, selling charcoal, motorcycle taxis have also hired children.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, National Project Coordinator at the International Labour Organization in Kenya Faith Manyalla said her organization had set 2021 as the year for the elimination of child labor after a unanimously adopted resolution at the United Nations General Assembly.
“This year requires accelerated response by a range of stakeholders ranging from the government to the private sector, NGOs, and all the UN bodies to accelerate action towards the elimination of child labor,” she added.
According to a report by African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect, most of the respondents said that during COVID-19, they needed food, shelter, clothing, education, and support more than masks, soap or sanitizers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating effects on families all across the African continent. Thousands of parents have been laid off from their jobs across the continent pushing many families to the extreme of poverty.
In Kenya alone, just in the first three months of the pandemic, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics announced that more than 1.7 million Kenyans have lost their jobs.
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