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`I must work to eat’

Biting poverty

Schools and other educational institutions in Uganda have since October 2021 been reopening in a staggered manner but the surging numbers of COVID-19 infections in mid-to-late May threaten plans for further reopening.

Dr. Monica Musenero, the Presidential Advisor on Epidemics, on May 27 said full operationalisation of educational institutions is the last thing the government is considering.

“We cannot take the risk,” Musenero said.

Further re-opening of schools for Primary one, two, and three and Senior three and five had been planned for June 7. Teachers and non-teaching staff had been placed on the priority list for vaccination against COVID-19. But by May 18, only 42,000 out of the targeted 550,000 teachers and non-teaching staff had been vaccinated.

The majority of children expressed a desire to return to school. But many children had not yet returned either because they believed their families still needed their income or because they needed to earn money for school expenses. Some were resigned to never returning to school, or at best, supporting the education of their younger siblings.

Moses, age 15, said he dropped out of school when he was in lower secondary school because his family could not afford fees of Shs250,000 per term. Catherine, age 14, completed primary school but was not able to enter secondary school because of the Shs400,000 entrance fee.

“There was no money,” she explained.

According to UN agencies, the longer children are out of school, the less likely they are to return. UNICEF estimates that 24 million children that have missed out on schooling during the pandemic will drop out for good.

Over the last three decades, Uganda has reduced substantially its official poverty rate, measured by the national poverty threshold, from 56 percent in 1993 to 21.4 percent in 2016.

However, economic precarity remains high: as many as 18 million people—more than 40 percent of the population­—were living on less than US$1.90 per person per day in 2016.

An estimated 23% living in poverty in urban areas lost their income during pandemic-related restrictions and the number of food-insecure people increased by an estimated 44%  The informal sector—which accounts for 98% —including people working in trading, services and hospitality, was hit the hardest.

In response to the unprecedented economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the vast majority of countries have implemented economic stimulus or emergency relief packages, including cash assistance for families.

Cash transfers to families with children are a powerful policy intervention that has been used to successfully reduce poverty, reduce child labour, and increase school enrollment.

International human rights standards also mean governments must ensure access to a social security scheme that provides a minimum essential level of benefits to all individuals and families that will enable them to acquire at least essential health care, basic shelter and housing, water and sanitation, food, and education.

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