Child labour is the employment of children in a manner that deprives them of their childhood, and is harmful to their physical and mental development.
The vice is still rife and rampant in Kenya today. This could be attributed to many factors not limited to poverty, ignorance, cultural practices and exploitation. Efforts towards preventing economic exploitation of children have not achieved much.
The persistence of child labour can be attributed to the lack of proper punitive measures to deter people and the lack of educating the public on the dangers of exploiting children.
In Kenya children are mainly engaged in agriculture, quarries and mines, pastoral labour, mining, garbage collection, fishing industry and the transport sector as matatu touts The informal sectors also witness the worst form of child labour where children work in sugarcane plantations, pastoral ranches, tea, coffee, miraa (a stimulant plant), rice, sisal, tobacco and fishing. Other economic activities of children in Kenya include scavenging dumpsites, collecting and selling scrap materials, glass and metal, street vending, herding and begging.
The Children Act defines a child in Kenya as a person below the age of 18 years. The Employment Act, Part VII provides for protection of children including protection from the worst forms of child labour.
Section 56 prohibits employing a child below 13 years in any form of undertaking. However it allows employment of children from the ages of 13 to16 years for light work and defines those of 16 to 18 as employable. However the Act does not clearly define the parameters for this employment as it does not define light work and also protection for children in such employment, but leaves it to the discretion of the minister.
In section 58 and 59, the minimum age for employment in an industrial undertaking is 16, unless he/she is an apprentice under the Industrial Training Act (Cap. 237, Laws of Kenya). The law also puts a time limit for a child in an industrial undertaking to between 6.30am to 6.30pm.
This minimum age restriction does not apply to employees who belong to the same family as the employer – unless the undertaking is dangerous to the life, health or morals of the persons employed. There is no legal minimum working age in the agricultural and services sectors, or for domestic work
In case a person considers any child to be employed in any activity which constitutes the worst form of child labour, section 54 of the Employment Act provides for complaints and directs them to the labour officer or a police officer of the rank of an inspector and above. The labour officer or a police officer will then carry out an investigation within seven days of reporting and submit the findings to the minister.
Section 64 declares an offence for any person who employs, engages, or uses a child in an industrial undertaking in contravention of the provisions of part VII of the Employment Act. Such a person will be liable to a fine not exceeding Ksh.200,000 or to an imprisonment of not more than one year or both.