IRC Increases Efforts to Reduce Child Labor in Northern Uganda - Press Release
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is building on initial success to reduce child labor in northern Uganda by launching a new program to further tackle the underlying poverty that forces many families to send their children out to work.
The IRC will work closely with district authorities in Kitgum to create 60 new village savings and loans associations (VSLAs), which allow poor families to access financial advice and loans at very low interest rates – thereby increasing their economic independence.
“The former protracted civil war in northern Uganda left many families impoverished and heavily reliant on child labor as a means of day-to-day survival,” says Shaun O’Donnell, who oversees IRC programs in Uganda.
“As much as these families might prefer to send their children to school, the reality is that many are forced to send them to work in harsh, exploitative industries such as quarrying, brewing alcohol and even prostitution,” O’Donnell adds. “Increasing economic capacity reduces this dependency and gives them a viable alternative.”
In 2008, IRC research found that the inability to pay school-related costs was the main reason why 52% of out-of-school children were not getting an education. While tuition is free for primary school students and many secondary school students, families must meet additional costs – such as uniforms and books. The IRC therefore piloted 20 VSLAs in Kitgum, and their adoption was so successful that the IRC is now creating the additional 60 VSLAs.
“VSLAs have proved a simple but effective way for families to come together, pool their savings and support each other with cash to pay for school costs or to set up small businesses,” says Omony Ogaba, Resident District Commissioner, Kitgum.
“In an area where many of our families can’t access traditional bank loans due to a lack of collateral, this is invaluable in allowing communities to reduce their reliance on child labor – something that we are all striving towards,” Commissioner Ogaba adds.
Working alongside district authorities and with funding from the Oak Foundation, the IRC’s new initiative will provide 2,400 existing and new VSLA members with training on basic financial literacy, savings habits, how to start up a business, and business management.
IRC staff will also train community members and schools to conduct awareness-raising events about child abuse and exploitation, as well as the importance of education. This will include the roll-out of a life skills manual to help pupils learn about issues including self-confidence, respect for others, developing life plans and dealing with emotions.
The initiative is part of a regional project that will also include IRC programs in Ethiopia and Kenya. It aims to reduce child labor by addressing the links between livelihood security and the exploitation of children.
“In Uganda, there is already a considerable awareness about the dangers of child labor,” says O’Donnell. “What is needed is more resources and support to address the economic factors that continue to force families to send their children out to work. Only then will we truly be able to reduce child labor and protect Uganda’s young people.”
Notes to editors
• The IRC’s existing Livelihoods, Education and Protection to End Child Labor (LEAP) Project in Uganda, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, has already successfully enrolled almost 7,500 former child laborers or children at risk of becoming child laborers into school since September 2007.
• Some 1.76 million of Uganda's 5 to 17 year-olds are involved in some kind of work, according to 2008 figures from the Ugandan Bureau of Statistics.
For more information, photos and interviews, please contact:
Shaun O’Donnell, IRC Country Director, Kampala: +256 (0) 772 774 594
Joanne Offer, Regional Media Manager, Nairobi: +254 (0) 737 800 028
Lucy Carrigan, Media Relations Officer, New York: + 1 917 859 3086
About the International Rescue Committee: A global leader in humanitarian assistance, the International Rescue Committee works in more than 40 countries offering help and hope to refugees and others uprooted by conflict and oppression. During crises, IRC teams provide health care, shelter, clean water, sanitation, learning programs for children and special aid for women. As emergencies subside, the IRC stays to revive livelihoods and help shattered communities recover and rebuild. The IRC also helps resettle refugees admitted into the United States. A tireless advocate for the most vulnerable, the IRC is committed to restoring hope, dignity and opportunity. For more information, visit www.theIRC.org.