Scavenging to make a living: The tale of minors forced to work because of effects of Covid-19 pandemic
By Abwao Sharon
When the government closed schools on March 15, 2020, in response to Covid-19 pandemic, 17 Million learners countrywide were sent home.
Hopes that schools could reopen in September were dashed after Education Cabinet Secretary, George Magoha announced that the earliest primary and tertiary institutions of learning can open is January.
However, for children whose parents have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, the extension only means a few more months in the trenches, eking a living to survive. At Gatwekera village in Kibera constituency I meet three boys aged between 11 and 15 who were busy collecting scrap metals in sewerage for sell. None of them were observing Covid-19 measures. The fact that they were underage children prompted me to find out why they were engaging in such activities while they should be at home learning or rather helping their parents with house chore.
At first the boys looked nervous, but after winning their trust they agreed to talk to me. One of the boys, Milan* who is 11 years old and a pupil at Brainstorm Primary School told me that he was the one who came up with the idea of collecting scrap metals and convinced two of his friends to join the business.
“We started selling scrap metals two weeks ago and since it was not generating enough money we decided to expand our business and so we decided to start collecting fire wood along the road side and in a nearby small forest and selling them to small scale sellers who used fire wood in their daily bases,” says Joshua* a 13-year-old student at Olympic primary school. As we continued conversing I came to learn that the boys were comfortable doing such kind of work though it was tiresome since it could help them to get money to cater for one meal per day, thus reducing the financial burden on their parents. “On a good day we can earn up to Sh170 and this money can cater for at least our lunch,” says Milan
The children were hoping that they could go back to school soon because studying online is a challenge, considering that none of their parents have a smartphone or owns a television set.
“My plea to the government is that they should open schools so that at least we can continue with our studies since studying online is quiet challenging. My parents cannot cater for all my needs since she was fired immediately the pandemic hit the country,” said 15-year-old Regan*, a Class 7 pupil at Raila Primary school.
After a long chat with the children I linked up with their parents. Michael Otieno who is Milan’s guardian and a father of two children said he was not aware he was doing such kind of work since he always leaves the house early to go to work and he comes in late making him not to have enough time to spend with the children.
Joshua’s mother said that she was aware that her son was selling firewood and scrap metal and admitted that the money he gets was of great help to the family.
“The money he gets is little but we can use it to use to buy one meal per day and also I am thankful because he has never come home with any injury,” She said.
According to a report by Plan International titled: Technical Note: Covid 19 and Child labour, worldwide an estimated 152 million children are in child labour with almost half of them working in hazardous conditions. It warns that the pandemic could put the achievements made in combating child labour at risk.
“The emergence of COVID-19 places these goals in great peril. The global health crisis is leading to mass disruption with far-reaching consequences. Many children are out of school and economic pressures on families continue to grow. This could push millions of children into child labour and makes child labour an imminent concern. Already working children are likely to be more exposed to the virus further increasing spread and face higher risks to falling into worst forms of child labour,” the report says.