Child Labour Menace in Western Equatoria State Print

directorforchildBy Gift Friday

Like most African Countries, South Sudan has its share of problems afflicting children. Child labour is rampart in the country’s Western Equatoria state following the displacement of thousands of people from their home villages due to the activities of the Ugandan rebels, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

In Western Equatoria State there are hundreds of street children engaged in all kinds of child labour to earn a living. In Yambio town, the state capital, these street children are engaged in car washing, hawking, and restaurant attendance or washing plates, among other jobs. The People’s Voice caught up with some of these street urchins to hear their stories.

Jackson Tambua, from Nabiapai village, is an orphan whose parents were killed by the LRA in 2007 and since then has been staying with his uncles. He says he engaged in the car washing business in Napkangau stream in Yambio in 2008, after he was expelled from school for not being able to pay the school fees. “I was in primary 4 and could not afford the school fees, so I decided to look for work to earn a living by washing cars, motorcycles, etc” he said. Jackson stated that he sometimes earns between 40-45 South Sudanese pounds, an equivalent of 15 US dollars, per day.

Anibie Kumbo is a girl aged 16 years.  She works as a cleaner at a local restaurant. Although she lives with her aging parents, Kumbo has to frequent Yambio town’s streets to undertake casual work to earn some money. She uses the little that she earns to purchase food for her family because her elderly parents are unable to cater for the family. “I left school just because of poverty. I took it upon myself to ensure the family gets something to eat every day,” she said. Anibie wants to go back to school but her predicament prevents her. She dropped out at primary level 6.

19 year old Kubako John decided to move out of his parent’s house to Yambio town’s streets. He says that he made the decision after his parents failed to raise money for his school fees. He is now married to street girl. “I am actually now renting a house and feeding my wife and my kid” he said. Kubako stated that he has no interest in rejoining school following the inability of his family to raise sufficient school fees. Kubako disclosed that he reached primary level 7, with only a year to go before finishing his O level, when he dropped out of school due to lack of money.

The Director of Child Welfare in the State Ministry of Social Development, Justin Ebere, said that street children had become a major concern to the ministry. “We have assessed the five counties of the state and found out that the number of street children is increasing mostly because of displacement of families by the LRA while others are forced on to the streets due to family frustrations, poverty levels and even mistreatment,” said Ebere. He disclosed that street children in Yambio town mostly engaged in washing vehicles or motorbikes, while a few resorted to hawking.

He said his ministry had organized a psycho-social and counseling workshop for street children, in early May this year, in which over 70 street children were rounded up and sensitized on the importance of resuming classes. Ebere disclosed that, with the help of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other partners, a rehabilitation resource centre has been constructed to help street kids, some of whom ended up on the streets as a result of LRA activities in the area.

He added that the directorate has reunited most of the street children with their families. The ministry is also trying to raise awareness among parents who mistreat their children about penalties they may face under the 2006 Children’s Act. “Some of the children are sent by their parents into the streets purposely to help them raise money,” he said.

He stressed that the ministry will continue to advocate for street kids and more specifically, keep trying to reunite them with their parents. “Handling street children is a difficult issue, especially if some parents have no sources of livelihood,” he said.

Ebere disclosed that the ministry plans to initiate some incoming generating activities that will mostly target the parents of street children who cannot even provide the basic needs of their families.

Over the past few years, widespread insecurity in Western Equatoria state has driven thousands of residents out of their homes as the government grapples with the LRA menace. In most cases the LRA have struck vulnerable villages with utmost impunity leaving thousands of acres of farmland unattended to. Despite the state being regarded as South Sudan’s bread basket due to its agricultural potential, the insecurity has contributed to ever increasing poverty levels amongst local residents with the associated impact on children. Despite the efforts of the local authorities there is still much work to be done to address the issues that force children on to the streets to work.