The child workers risking life and limb for a dollar a day
Former child soldiers are among thousands of Ugandans, risking their lives by quarrying stone in the capital Kampala.
Thousands of people started working at the quarry, when they were displaced from the country’s north by civil war.
Poverty has forced them to keep labouring for as little as a dollar a day in wages.
Alexandra Fisher has this report for Lateline.
EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: It’s not exactly a model workplace: known for its cheap wages, use of child labour and perilous conditions. But for thousands of people displaced from northern Uganda by civil war, the quarry in the capital Kampala was a lifeline.
While peace has returned to the country’s north, hundreds of workers – including children – have not. They’re forced by poverty to keep toiling at the quarry.
Alexandra Fisher reports from Kampala for Lateline.
ALEXANDRA FISHER, REPORTER: They toil from dawn to dusk in pressing heat. Unprotected small hands grapple with the work of grown men.
Ben is seven years old. He’s helping to feed his family.
BEN, CHILD QUARRY WORKER (translation): I want to study. I have no money. I have no Dad. I’m crushing the gravel and if I get the money sometimes I give it to my Mum and I try to save for my education.
ALEXANDRA FISHER: His life, like hundreds who labour here, has been fragmented by one of Africa’s bloodiest wars. The Lord’s Resistance Army terrorised northern Uganda for more than two decades, forcing thousands to flee as far south as the capital, Kampala.
They lived in these makeshift dwellings, a slum today known as Acholi Quarter. The slum’s quarries became a lifeline for the thousands displaced.
BENSON OCEN, I LIVE AGAIN UGANDA: We have people who have been former child soldiers. We have people who have seen their children killed. We have people who have seen their other relatives and community members abducted.
ALEXANDRA FISHER: Charles Odoki was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army to be a child soldier, but he escaped back to his village after a gun battle between the rebels and Ugandan army.
CHARLES ADOKE, QUARRY WORKER: They hit me here with a bullet on my leg, here. So from there I ran, not knowing that I was shot. So I ran some distance. The blood was flowing.
Then, 10 years ago, Charles fled to Kampala after rebels set his village on fire. While he got away, the rebels locked his mother and sister inside their hut.
CHARLES ADOKE: From then on, they couldn’t even come out. And my mother, was by then, was not even actually, like, energetic to break the house. But they were just burned inside the house.
ALEXANDRA FISHER: For Charles, the fear of death remains present every day. He says falling rocks often crush workers.
CHARLES ADOKE: Recently one of my friends was covered with the stone here. The stone hit him. Then we couldn’t even, you know, get him quickly. So by the time we removed him he died immediately. He died before. So we removed him as a dead body now.
ALEXANDRA FISHER: A local charity says few workers are left unscarred by the quarry’s unforgiving conditions.
BENSON OCEN: No gloves, no helmet, no overall clothes that they use to protect them. They just go there in the bare hand as they break the stone: many injuries. We have clients that have lost their hands. They cough, the conditions because they inhale this dust. They have no protection that covers their mouth.
ALEXANDRA FISHER: Conditions Santina Ochero faces every day. She came here with her children early on in the conflict. She’s been doing this for more than 20 years.
SANTINA OCHERO, QUARRY WORKER: I’m injured by a rock: injured my hand and hit my back and I’m feeling weak. I just work for the sake of still eating. I have no strength.
ALEXANDRA FISHER: On a good day, workers will fill about 20 of these jerry cans with crushed stones. For that work they will earn less than $1. Trapped by their poverty, many Acholi people don’t have the money to rebuild back home.
BENSON OCEN: They don’t feel any good but that’s the only option they have. They have to do work which is more of a hand-to-mouth, because that’s the way of their living.
CHARLES ADOKE: Actually, from there we were, like, cooking…
ALEXANDRA FISHER: Charles remains hopeful he will one day return home.
CHARLES ADOKE: My calling first is to be an engineer. Because I like mathematics since I was even a young person. Also, the calling of the Lord is also in my heart. Because when you also believe in the Lord, everything will be possible.
ALEXANDRA FISHER: A hope not even a life of adversity has crushed.
Alexandra Fisher was a 2015 fellow with the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Africa Great Lakes Reporting Initiative.