Eleven-year-old Jerom Bwanika is a primary six pupil at Lohana primary school in Kampala. During normal weekdays, Bwanika would spend his days at school studying with his peers.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the government to close schools as part of the containment measures, Bwanika spends his day supporting his mother at the family shop. Bwanika explains that he revises his books in the morning and helps his mother later to make and sell ice cream.
He said that with the experience he has gained, he could easily get employment in a medium-sized ice cream parlour.
16-year-old Dorothy Kiconco a senior three student of Kitante hill secondary also helps her mother in Boost Arcade in Kampala city.
Kiconco explains that, unlike her colleagues who are at home spending time on television, she has been able to get some knowledge on managing customers in the business world.
Kiconco’s mother in women’s clothes. She helps the customers to check clothes that fit them and shows them different designs.
Kiconco has also learnt the skills of bargaining with the customers.
Yusuf Mutabazi, a senior two student from Luzira secondary school aged 14, explains that currently, he is helping his sister in her wholesale, which sells threads.
Mutabazi says that his role at the shop has helped him to gain experience in the business language.
Under the Employment Act, a child under the age of 14 years may is ineligible for employment except for light work under the supervision of an adult.
The work should not be affecting the child’s education. The Act defines light work as the one, which does not harm the health and development of the minor and does not exceed 14 hours per week.
Some of the parents, who took the decision to work with their children, say it was inevitable.
Bwanika’s mother, Rita Nalubowa a shop attendant in Makindye, says that working with her son was a decision she took after realizing that schools would take longer to open.
‘’The moment the government said that the learners will be resuming school after vaccination; I knew this was going to take them a long time. Then I decided to bring him with me to the shop so that he can get some useful experience in the business besides reading his books,” ’Nalubowa said.
Wasswa Kirumira, another parent dealing in women’s clothes in Kampala, says it is not good to leave the students at home especially in today’s environment.
Kirumira says that apart from being able to monitor his son while working with him, he can also save some money he would be paying to an outside employee.
He explains that the prolonged closure of schools has made him realize that his son can get some skills through supporting the family business.
The children (Amendment) Act 2016 also prohibits the exploitation of children whereby people derive a benefit like finances.
Usher Wilson Owere, the Chairman General, National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU), says the decision of parents to occupy their children is a good approach for their safety and has nothing to do with child labour.
According to Owere, parents and children can generate family income in their family business as they wait for the schools to resume.
Owere says that at the beginning of the first lockdown many reports pointed to the negative effects of the lockdown on schoolchildren including teenage pregnancies and child labour among others.
He says that if parents have realized that engaging their children by working with them is the best option to keep them safe and at the same time learn some business basics, it should be encouraged.