Coronavirus restrictions have had an overwhelming effect on African countries, and in Kenya more than 1.7 million people lost their jobs during the first three months of the pandemic, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics reported.
Thousands of parents were laid off across the continent, forcing many families into extreme poverty.
With schools closed for the most part for the past two years due to COVID-19-related restrictions, Koech Kipsiele, 13, was forced to work to help the family bring food to the table.
Ahead of World Child Labor Day on Saturday, Kipsiele told Anadolu Agency (AA) that he must work on a full-time farm because his parents have gone into debt due to pandemic restrictions.
“I have to help on the farm, even if I did not want to, there is nothing to do but play and help the family, to collect tea … and also take care of the plants,” he said.
Every day after a bowl of porridge in the morning, Kipsiele works on farms under a scorching sun until lunch, after which he has a few hours of play with his friends. He then returns to do the rest of the farm work.
He has continued his routine even after schools reopened in the country.
In the corn farms scattered across western Kenya, it is common to see children working in the hot sun. In the semi-arid lands of northern Kenya, children have seen grazing livestock and other livestock instead of going to school.
In Machakos County, children like Nduku Kiloko, 12, go with their families to work in quarries and handle explosives instead of carrying a school bag.
“We work all day, we do not play. Yes, we can go play if we wanted but then we would not have anything to eat. We have to help the family,” she said.
Despite a ban on employing children, her mother Anne Ndunge said she needed children to help the family.
“I used to work as a maid. My boss, who worked for a non-governmental organization (NGO), lost his job and left the country. That means we needed more hands to work for our family. Everyone in the village does this, that is no secret, she said.
On the streets of the Kenyan capital Nairobi is an impermissible sight female street beggars with children. The women do nothing but wait for the children to beg on their behalf.
School closures affect children
Many organizations have reported increased child labor after the pandemic outbreak.
According to research conducted by the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) in four counties in Kenya, many children were affected by school closures because the majority of the parents were either self-employed in the informal sector or small farmers generating minimal income.
In addition to working on family farms, children also work in construction, harvesting sand, selling coal and driving motorcycle taxis.
Speaking to AA, Faith Manyalla, the National Project Coordinator at the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Kenya, said that her organization set a goal of eliminating child labor by 2021 following a unanimous resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly.
“This year, faster efforts are needed from a range of stakeholders, from the government to the private sector, NGOs and all UN agencies to accelerate action against the elimination of child labor,” she added.
According to a report by ANPPCAN, most of the respondents said that during COVID-19 they needed food, protection, clothing, education and support more than masks, soap or disinfectants.