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Child labour in demand in Rwanda

By Emmanuel Goujon, Daily Main & Guardian (Johannesberg), 2 May 2000

Children as young as six work 10-hour shifts in Rwanda

This is Rwanda's junior labour force. How junior? The youngest are just six years old.

Child labourers are much in demand in Rwanda, a country short of manpower since the genocide which claimed between half a million and 800 000 lives in 1994 left a quarter of a million orphans, although the social services now put the figure at 300 000.

It's a sweated, exploited force, says the United Nations.

"Most of these children are exploited by adults and badly under-paid," said Cyriaque Ngoboka, an official with Unicef, the United Nation's children's agency.

At the various brickworks on the outskirts of the capital Kigali, work starts early with a break towards the end of the afternoon, officially so that the "labourers" can go to school.

But most are too tired to walk several miles back to their village, so they spend the time resting up on the site ahead of several hours' more labour.

"Generally they're reckoned to get 5 000 Rwandan francs a month, whatever they do," Ngoboka said. "Most of the time they don't go to school, so they have little chance of escaping this system of exploitation."

Unicef has pushed the Rwandan government into introducing legislation prohibiting child labour. But it is being enforced only fitfully.

Francois Ngarambe, Rwanda's minister of youth and sport, said: "We know there are abuses in small companies and in rural areas, and the government has taken steps to have the law enforced."

"We're trying to set up education programmes for children without schooling so that they can learn a trade," the minister said. "Regulations have also been introduced to enforce respect for the legal minimum work age which is generally 18."

Meanwhile some 2 000 mainly orphans called the Mayibobo are living on the streets of Kigali.

Left to fend for themselves, they scrape a living selling newspapers, cigarettes, Kleenex tissues, working as parking attendants. Begging. Stealing.

At Kigali's market place they're handy labour to remove garbage, carry merchandise or housewives' shopping packages.

Unicef's Ngoboka also identified another form of child labour: "Children used as servants, especially the genocide orphans, who get their upkeep from families in return for their labour," he explained, adding:

"Sometimes they're not paid anything."

--AFP, May 2 2000.