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`I must work to eat’

Hazardous jobs

According to the report, the children do jobs that are clearly hazardous. They worked in gold, marble, and limestone mines, stone quarries, fishing, construction, agriculture, and on streets vending masks, biscuits, and brooms.

George, age 12 sells fish and collects and sells stones for construction workers.

“There was no money at home and my mother was struggling so much,” he said. He worked 7 days a week, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., earning between Shs3,000 and Shs9,000 shillings per day. He said that sometimes his customers refused to pay him and that his meager earnings were not enough to feed the family.

“It is hard being hungry a whole day. Many times, my mum has to borrow food at the shop, but sometimes those people at the shop refuse.”

Elijah, age 13, worked in rice and sugarcane fields for 14 hours a day, and said that on some days, he made only Shs500.

Saphina, 13 years old, spent 9 hours a day crushing stones at a stone quarry, but made only Shs4,000 shillings per week.

She said, “The money that I earn is too little compared to the work that I do.”

Joan, age 15, worked 11 hours a day selling masks, but said that the money she earned was so little that she and her aunt sometimes went without food.

The Children showed researchers cuts on their bodies from crushing stones while others displayed injuries from the machete-like tools they used to clear bushes from fields or the sharp edges of sugarcane stalks they bundled and carried.

Fifteen-year-old Daniel described his work at a construction site carrying cement, bricks, and other materials up and down the stairs of a 4-story building for 10 hours each day. “Sometimes I feel drained,” he said, “but I have to finish the work and earn my pay.”

Most of the children are paid less than Shs7,000 per day even though nearly half work at least 10 hours a day.

Thirteen-year-old Saphina spent nine hours a day crushing stones at a stone quarry , but was paid only Shs4,000 per week.

“The money that I earn is too little compared to the work that I do,” she says

Many children said that their employer sometimes refused to pay them or cheated through arbitrarily deductions from their salaries.

For example, Maria, age 12, crushed stones at a quarry; typically earning only Shs5,000 per week but said her employer would pay her even less if he was not satisfied with the size of the stones. In several cases, girls reported being paid less for their work than boys performing the same job. Several girls also reported facing sexual harassment by employers or other adults at their workplaces.

Catherine, age 14, began working in a restaurant when her father lost work during the pandemic, but said male customers “were very indecent with me, touching my bum”.

Three children interviewed worked at a processing facility that prepared silver fish (Lake Victoria sardines, also known as mukene) for export. They were promised Shs7,000  per day but said that their employer rarely paid them the full amount.

Janet, age 16, said: “That muzungu (white man) can give you a yellow card any time, which means that you are not going to be paid that day.”

Evelyn, age 15, worked at the same fish processing facility, and said that one day her employer saw her touching a jackfruit on the compound and deducted Shs20,000 from her pay, even though her daily wages were only Shs7,000.

Three girls working at the fish processing facility reported that their employer was physically and verbally abusive. One said, “It’s very scary. He calls us ‘monkeys.’”

Another said, “There is no peace. There is harassment, beating and reducing pay.”

Despite low pay, exploitation, mistreatment, and even violence, children believed that they had little choice but to continue working.

Angela, age 15, said of her employer in Uganda, “He beats us, he can push you, slap you, but we endure . . . I need the job, I need the money, however little.”

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