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Film Highlights Child Labor Abuses in Uganda

A documentary has been released that depicts child labor in Uganda. The film, called “Stone Cold” is by local writer Michael Wawuya. It explores the causes and costs of child labor in a typical village. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Machrine Birungi in Kampala describes one of the scenes.

A little boy is carefully holding a tool that is bigger than his hand. Innocent Kiwanuka brings down the hammer as he smashes stones in the quarry. He works in the scorching sun for 12 long hours. The payment for his labor? 500 shillings -- enough to buy him a cob of maize and a glass of juice.

The stone quarry is the setting of Michael Wawuya’s film, which centers on a rural father, his three children, and a rich investor who wants nine large truck-loads of stones from the quarry to construct a huge factory in the area.

Writer Michael Wawuya explains how the stone quarry inspired his film. “It is based on the family of a man who lives off of breaking stones and selling the aggregates [small pieces]. This is a man who was given money to collect nine tippers [trucks] of aggregate stones for one rich man. (But), he kind of misused that money and as a result he had to find some form of cheap labor to do the job. And so the cheap labor was his own children.”

One of the most daunting problems facing the children engaged in child labor is the parents’ failure to monitor what they do. Wawuya’s documentary shows the danger involved. He uses a story based on a real incident to raise awareness about parental responsibility and child exploitation. He says,“While they were working at the quarry he had left them unattended to and unguided. The quarry collapsed. The two children died. He lost those two children because he left them unattended and gave them jobs that are meant for adults.”

James Lambert is a consultant with the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC). He says almost three million children in Uganda are laborers.

Lambert says over 34 percent of all children in Uganda between the ages of five and 17 years are working. Over half of those between 10 and 14 years of age work.

In the streets of Kampala, the sight of children as young as two years is common. Some are begging money; others are helping take merchandise off of trucks. Girls often sell cooked food and sweets.

Wawuya describes a scene he witnessed, “I found some children at night. They were selling maize. It was about midnight and these children were sleeping beside their saucepans of maize. I asked them, “What are you doing here?” And they said, “We were sent here to sell this maize.” So I asked them, ‘Why can’t you go back home; it’s like there is nobody buying.” They said, “No, we can’t go back home, because our mother will kill us if we go back home without money from the maize.” I decided to buy all the maize. Actually, it had gone bad and the kids went back home. But I realized the level of abuse of children..."

The International Labor Organization and the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor are currently supporting the government of Uganda in finalizing the National Child Labor Policy. It would encourage children to stay in school and help stop the coercion of children into the labor market.

The title of the film, “Stone Cold,” was taken from the name of the stone quarry in the film. It is also the author’s description of the hearts of parents who allow their children to be abused. This is Michael Wawuya’s first film as a scriptwriter and producer. It’s being financed in part by the International Labor Organization, UNICEF and the British NGO Action Aid. Wawuya says he’s optimistic the film will help raise public consciousness regarding the treatment of children.