Child protection NGO’s say that twenty-six thousand children are engaged in child labor throughout the country. Government’s regulations to fight against child labor are not well-known and poorly upheld. – By J.Berchmans Siboniyo
In many popular quarters of Bujumbura city, we are accustomed to seeing little children who sell eggs, peanuts and other kinds of food in pubs and on the streets. When we enter in some compounds, little boys are cooking, washing dishes, clothes or cleaning houses. Aimable Barandagije, the National coordinator of FENADEB, the national federation of associations that are committed to protecting children and the Chairman of Giriyuja association says that the federation knows of twenty-six thousand children engaged in child labor. Seven hundred among them are domestics: homeboys and maids. Others are working in agriculture, in particular on tea and palm plantations. A considerable number of children work in mine extraction.
Child labor refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful. Burundi’s Constitution prohibits forced labor. The Penal Code forbids trafficking, agreeing to traffic, or profiting from trafficking of children under the age of 18. The Burundian Penal Code does not, however, contain explicit penalties for forced labor.
Aimable indicates that they know many cases of children who are employed before the legal working age, which is 16. He names several causes. “Most of the children reported that they were forced to work under age because they did not afford to pay school fees. I know many students who began secondary school but interrupted their studies because of poverty in their family.”
Ezekiel Bayubahe, a 13- year old egg vendor,states that he was in the 4th year of the primary school when he quit. He said that he was chased from school because he didn’t have the school uniform. He decided to go to Bujumbura to earn money.
The FENADEB coordinator says that the second cause of employing children before the minimum age of admission to employment is the ignorance on the law on the side of employers. Samuel Hakizimana who has a small restaurant at Kinanira quarter proudly says that he employs younger children to help them and their families. “They come my way and ask me something to do in my restaurant and sometimes they work for food only”, he admits. He is unaware that this is against government regulations.
The other cause of the persistence of child labor is that children are easy to exploit. Aimable: “Employers prefer little children so they can pay less. They know that adults will not accept the meager salary they pay the little children.” He knows that some employers let children work for months without paying them at all. Some children are banned from going out of the compound, so they can’t tell anyone what is happening to them.
Iwacu asked the federation what they are doing to eradicate this practice. The Coordinator says that they employ lawyers to help exploited children, especially those who have not been paid. To improve the overall knowledge on the laws concerning child labor, they open their offices for everyone who has questions or concerns related to child labor and exploitation.