Child labor, education and guarantee of children’s rights: challenges of the Uganda School Project – Sara Tironi

In the village of Kikajjo, children seek water every day to meet the needs of their families

No início do ano, uma imagem vinda de uma cidadezinha do sul da Bahia foi destaque nas redes sociais e em noticiários brasileiros: uma foto de mochilas gigantes distribuídas pela prefeitura de Jequié a crianças da educação infantil. No retrato, pequenas meninas e meninos carregam bolsas escolares enormes, nitidamente incompatíveis com seu porte miúdo. Entre críticas e memes, não nos damos conta de que o ato dessa prefeitura é apenas um reflexo de como todos nós, em geral, tratamos as infâncias: como se todas as crianças tivessem mais ou menos a mesma idade e tamanho, estivessem todas expostas a mais ou menos os mesmos incentivos, dificuldades e violências, e contassem todas com uma mesma estrutura biopsicológica e sociocultural para interpretarem seus desafios e viverem em suas realidades.

At the beginning of the year, an image from a small town in southern Bahia was featured on Brazilian social networks and newsreels: a photo of giant backpacks distributed by the Jequié prefecture to children in early childhood education. In the portrait, little girls and boys carry huge school bags, sharply incompatible with their small size. Between critics and memes, we do not realize that the act of this prefecture is only a reflection of how we, in general, treat childhoods: as if all children were about the same age and size, were all exposed to more or less the same incentives, difficulties and violence, and all had the same bio-psychological and socio-cultural structure to interpret their challenges and live in their realities.

When we speak of child labor, the need for its eradication in all its forms is often a consensus. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), this phenomenon present in a massive way mainly in developing countries can be defined as that which deprives children of their childhoods, their potential, their dignity, being detrimental to their physical and psychological. In addition, it is an activity that interferes with educational processes, making it impossible to attend school or causing the child to combine attendance at school with excessively long and heavy working hours. Considered this, in 2015, the leaders of member countries of the United Nations (UN) jointly agreed to eliminate all forms of child labor by 2025.

The country’s latest national report made available to the ILO that in 2013, more than two million Ugandan children between the ages of five and 17 were involved in some form of labor activity (approximately one in six children registered in Uganda), mostly in the area rural. Of these, approximately 507,000 were allocated to hazardous work, such as jobs in industries, night jobs, working more than 43 hours a week, among others.

Children carrying banana bags to be marketed in the village of Kikajjo

Recent attempts to reverse this scenario, however, through legislative changes and implementation of new educational policies, have opened the door for the increase of children working clandestinely and in even more precarious conditions, including in prostitution. This was the conclusion reached in 2015 by the US Department of Labor’s Office of International Affairs on a report on Uganda’s progress in curbing so-called “worst forms of child labor” by ILO Convention 182, including include all practices of slavery analogous to it, the use of children for prostitution or pornographic production, the recruitment of children for illicit activities such as drug trafficking, as well as all kinds of work that may harm the health, safety or morals of the child. child.

In the year in question, Uganda had enacted legislation prohibiting the practice of child labor, while at the same time prohibiting work for children under the age of 16. Combining this framework with the implementation of the Universal Primary Education (UPE) program since 1997, concerning the abolition of fees for the enrollment of Ugandan children between six and 13 years of age in primary education, the country has created a scenario of progress in a formal guarantee of rights that, in contradiction, has left adolescents between the ages of 14 and 16 especially vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor.

In addition to this potential negative externality, consideration should also be given to the possibility that the incentives to take advantage of the new policies are at least initially innocuous. Research conducted in 2004 by the US National Bureau of Economic Research found that, in developing countries, non-hazardous child labor can generate wage returns and employment opportunities in the medium term (within a five year horizon). outweigh the gains that would have been earned with school attendance. Although this scenario reverses drastically in the long term, as in the same study, in a country with a low life expectancy, the use of short-term benefits, although small, may seem much more attractive.

This is the context of the Kikajjo village, the main focus of the Uganda School Project. On a daily basis, professionals, volunteers and volunteers from St. Mary’s School, where the project unfolds, face the challenge of motivating and encouraging school attendance and the learning of children and adolescents who already have double journeys – one at school and another at works in the field and even in civil construction – when not triple, if considered also the domestic work that they perform in their houses or in others of the neighborhood.

In spite of the difficulties encountered, however, Project participants believe that the development of a welcoming and open educational space conducive to a critical reflection of the social situations of violation of the rights of the child confronted by each student on a daily basis will allow each one reorganize and reconstruct their experiences, fostering their individual emancipation, as well as that of the communities in which they are inserted.

However, it is necessary not to forget that education is not only about building the future: the school space also represents the here-now, the present and the space experienced and experienced by children and adolescents with different difficulties, who need to be first of all learned by the Project participants themselves. Kikajjo children need to work, to share their attention in the classroom with extreme tiredness, with worries and often with distractions arising from the effects of physical and psychological injuries resulting from their work activities. If, on the one hand, the universal rights discourse on children says that child labor should be abolished as a means of guaranteeing the freedom, dignity and well-being of children and adolescents worldwide, Kikajjo, in the search for their own and family support, understand that work is the only way to conquer their freedom, dignity and well-being.

Faced with this conflict between speech and perception of the real, the School Project in Uganda intends to allow St. Mary’s School to be a space of construction and joint reconstruction of experiences and, above all, respect. In this environment, the promotion of human rights must, above all, involve daily practices that effectively enable children to experience themselves as human beings, experiencing moments of freedom, security and solidarity, as well as access to education, culture, health, community life , adequate food and leisure. In doing so, the Project can in fact cooperate with the guarantee of basic rights while building an educational experience capable of influencing the transformation of local realities, enabling the realization of the liberation of children from all forms of child labor.

About the Author:

Sara Tironi holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in law from USP, a researcher on educational policies, the right to education and the rights of children. Teacher and collaborator in the ONG Horizon initiative (Pirassununga- SP).


INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANIZATION. What is child labour. Available in:–en/index.htm . Access on 06/19/2017. . Access on 06/19/2017. . Access on 06/19/2017. . Access on 06/19/2017. . Access on 06/15/2017. . Access 10/06/2017.

BEEGLE, K.; DEHEJIA, R.; GATTI, R. Why should we care about child labor? The education, labor Market and health consequences of child labor. NBER Working paper series. December, 2004. Disponível em: . Access on 06/19/2017.

According to the World Bank’s 2015 data, available at: . Access on 06/19/2017.

Sobre educação e emancipação, cf.: ADORNO, T. W. Educação e emancipação. 6. ed. São Paulo: Editora Paz e Terra, 2011; DEWEY, J. Educação e vida. Trad. Anísio Teixeira. 5.ed. São Paulo: Companhia Nacional, 1959. MÉSZAROS, I. A educação para além do capital. 2. ed. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2008; FREIRE, P. Pedagogia do oprimido. 17. ed. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1987.

Sobre educação e vivência, cf.: WALZER, M. Esferas da justiça. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2003; ESTÊVÃO, C. V. Educação, justiça e democracia: um estudo sobre as geografias da justiça em educação. São Paulo: Cortez, 2004.

TOMASEVSKI, K. Human rights obligations: making education available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable. Gothenburg: Novum Grafiska AB, 2001.