Exploitative labour marginalises children. It denies them their right to education and prevents them from entering the market of skilled employment.

According to a statement from World Vision, a non governmental organization, poverty, discrimination, and lack of access to social services are some of the factors that force children into exploitative labour.

In Nachonga, Gasabo district, where stone quarrying is a common activity, many children have also been forced to engage in it. The activity is so bad that it is putting the children involved at high risk of damage to their eyes and the lungs. The dust in stone quarries is very harmful for children’s developing lungs.

Jean Pierre Habimana, is one such child. At only 13 years, he has been forced into labour, as other children his age, in different parts of Rwanda and the world at large go about their usual business ‘of being just children.’

“I don’t go to school because my mother cannot afford to buy books, pens and a uniform.”

By Rwandan law, the minimum labour age at 16 years. This does not mean children are not supposed to undertake some household chores.

In the African tradition, children were supposed to assist their families. As long as this is light work in their homes that contributes to the wellbeing of the family, it is entirely appropriate.

But when the work prevents a child from attending school or involves hazardous conditions and excessive hours, it becomes child labour—work that jeopardises the physical, emotional, and cognitive development of the child.

This kind of labour ultimately erodes the quality of human capital in Rwanda. According to the country’s 2002 Population and Housing census, 352,550 children (which accounts for 13 percent) were involved in child labour, with the majority being employed in the agriculture sector in rural areas.

More recent surveys conducted show that the percentage of economically active children may range from 30 to 41percent. While the agricultural sector accounts for the largest percentage of  child labour in Rwanda, research indicates that children in quarry work, brick making, sand harvesting, petty trade, commercial sex work, sugar cane and tea plantations, pottering, and domestic service.

The Census also found out that among child labourers 47 percent were boys and 53 percent were girls, with the former engaging in child labour at older ages.

Kenya Uganda Rwanda and Ethiopia (KURET) Initiative is a  combating child labor project, that provides educational alternatives to children, particularly those with HIV/Aids, who are engaged in or exposed to exploitive child labor practices in four East African countries.

Julian Ntezimana, a manager from the Initiative explains that they carried out a survey in the provinces, and the difficult economic conditions there contribute to child labor.

The harsh economic time is the main reason why children were forced into labour. The survey also found that children are working an average of approximately 40 hours a week, for Frw 1,590 per month on average, and that most children work during daytime.

According to the KURET Initiative survey, 19 percent of the child workers had been injured or fallen sick in the six months preceding the census.

The back and neck, eyes, arm and hands are the most vulnerable parts. More than 29 percent reported being exposed to gas, fumes, or dust. Other work-related hazards included noise, sexual harassment, and dangerous tools.

It is clear that this situation leads to a vicious circle of poverty and underdevelopment. Given their lack of education, the children engaged in exploitative labour today are unlikely to find skilled employment as adults.

Therefore, they are likely to remain impoverished, and they may push their own children into exploitative labor at an early age.

Thus, child labor constitutes a threat for the realization of Vision 2020, and the cost of abandoning children to exploitative labor is the prolonged impoverishment of Rwanda’s population through 2020 and beyond.

Overall KURET Project has enrolled 7302 children (4166 girls, 3206 boys) into different educational programs.  These are former child labourers.

They have been enrolled in various classes starting with basic education, accelerated learning and vocational and training programmes.