It is not unusual to see a tiny child of school-going age walking up and down Uhuru Highway as the lights turn from red to green all day. These children carry njugu karanga, sweets and wooden saving boxes which they always persuade you to buy as you wait for the lights to turn green. If you do not buy their items, they always look at you in despair with innocent tearing eyes and ask you to help them instead.
A visit to the Dandora dumpsite tells you the same story. Many children are born in the heaps and piles of garbage to join the garbage collection families that have been in the trade for years. They have nowhere to go. That's where they call home. Many of them end up joining forces with their parents to get a meal for the day. Many of these children do not know that they are supposed to be in class.
In many of our coffee, flower and tea farms, industries, quarries just to name a few, children who supposed to be in class enjoying the right to education are working there. Many of their parents do not want them to go to school since they treat the children as a source of income.
Many cunning parents send or hire out their kids to beggars in the street who use them to get your sympathy. In the evening, the child is returned to their parents with a few coins as the day’s collection.
According to surveys, child labour is still rife and rampant in Kenya today. This could be attributed to many factors not limited to poverty, ignorance, cultural practices and exploitation.
Efforts towards preventing economic exploitation of children have not achieved much. In other instances, children have even been exposed and forced to join armed conflict, by being given ammunition and being instructed to fight in the name of protecting the community and livestock.
All this is happening under a legal framework aimed at protecting the rights of children. The blame should be levelled against anyone who is failing to protect the rights of the child.
Economic exploitation of children happens more often than not in some of our households today, either knowingly or unknowingly. Some of us got some needy children from upcountry, in the name of wanting to help them get a better education, or rescuing them from poverty, but end up making them our house helps.
This is child exploitation and it goes against the guaranteed rights and freedoms of children under the laws of Kenya.
The Children’s Act, Section 10, provides that every child shall be protected from economic exploitation and any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. The act defines child labour as any situation where a child provides labour in exchange for payment and includes:
• any situation where a child provides labour as an assistant to another person and his labour is deemed to be the labour of that other person for the purposes of payment;
• any situation where a child's labour is used for gain by any individual or institution whether or not the child benefits directly or indirectly; and
• any situation where is in existence a contract for services where the party providing the services is a child whether the person using the services does so directly or by agent.
The Children's Act further provides that no child shall take part in hostilities or be recruited in armed conflicts, and where armed conflicts occurs, respect for and protection and care of children shall be maintained in accordance with the law.
Perhaps the persistence of child labour can be attributed to the lack of proper punitive measures to deter people, and the lack of educating the public on the dangers of exploiting children.
The punishment provided under section 64 of the Employment Act is vague. It does broadly define the extent of child labour, hence leaving a lot in the dark. It mainly focuses on the employment of children in industries and children in the worst form of labour practices.
The Penal Code does not provide a proper statement of offence of engaging in child labour. This can be deemed counterproductive in the efforts to curb the vice, since it is not easy to prosecute offences relating to child labour. As a result, the vice has continued unabated.