#EI25: “Experiences and gains in fighting child labour”, by Juliet Wajega (UNATU, Uganda)

The leadership of Education International (EI) is applauded for demonstrating that education Unions are well placed to contribute to the elimination of child labour and promote quality education for all. It is important to look back and draw strength from these achievements as EI celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2018.

On 1st September 2006 when I joined Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU) as the Coordinator for the EFAIDS project, EI and its affiliates were focusing on HIV & AIDS as one of the biggest barriers to achievement of quality education, with almost no mention of other critical factors such as Child Labour.

However in 2011, EI realized the need for participating in the global fight against child labour and at its 6th Congress in 2011, the first EI Resolution on Child Labour was adopted. Thanks to EI, new Child Labour programmes were initiated for its affiliates as part of implementing this newly adopted resolution.

In a bid to implement the EI  Resolution on Child Labour, UNATU began by sensitizing the top Union leadership on the value of Teachers Unions being part of the child labour response. The benefits included increasing the Union visibility as a key stakeholder in education, ensuring learners are in school and also increasing the potential membership of the union among others.  We also explained that child labour falls under the thematic area of  enhancing quality education in UNATU strategic  Plan then.

However, this was not an easy task. Most of the Union officials had perceived it as a civil society function and also a waste of union resources that could better be put into campaigns on bread and butter issues for members.

In April 2012, UNATU received  technical and financial support from EI  and  organized a National workshop on child labour  for UNATU leadership. This was an eye-opener to UNATU leaders and since then, Child labour has been seen as one of the core actions of the union.

As the head of the successive programmes supported by EI in my union since 2012, I managed to place child labour as a priority item through inclusion in the organisation’s strategic documents, reports, meetings’ agendas and other activities. This effort mostly focused on raising awareness that child labour is  integral to the unions’ concerns.  During such occasions, definitions and consequences of child labour as well as benefits to teachers and the importance of teachers unions’ involvement in the child labour response were highlighted. As a result, UNATU ran a campaign for our members to abstain from use of child domestic workers and to promote child friendly school environments to support children remain in school. This campaign has been successful in that members now monitor each other to ensure that none of them employs a child as a domestic worker.  Enrolments have also increased in some of the schools as a result of the campaign.

In 2012, I was requested by EI to lead the development of a new resource manual on Child Labour[1]. This manual, which was adopted during the third EI Global Conference on Child Labour in Brasilia in October 2013 by representatives of affiliates from all regions, is another clear demonstration of the important role of EI in providing tools for action and dissemination of material and good practices on child labour among unions and members for now and the future. As it can be easily customised for use all over the world, UNATU keeps using it until now: in 2018, we intend to use it to train 180 teachers from 15 primary schools in Nebbi district and 120 teachers from 12 schools in Zombo district, Uganda.

The Omar’s Dream project is another example of EI’s  leadership in mobilizing its affiliates to be part of a global movement. UNATU was privileged to be one of the affiliates to benefit from this intervention. At national level, UNATU successfully built partnerships with civil society organizations and Members of Parliament and in 2014, a motion was moved in Parliament urging the government of Uganda to enrol all children of school-going age in education and have none in child labour. This was one of the greatest successes of the Omar’s Dream Project.

Most recently, with support from EI and AOb (The Netherlands), UNATU is implementing a child labour intervention under the ‘Out of Work into School’ project in the West Nile region. Benefits for teachers and the union are manifold: the  teachers have embraced the project and known the concept of child labour, teachers are monitoring school attendance  using general and cluster register; the union relationship with the district has been improved; we notice a better collection of membership dues and an increased membership. Thanks to our advocacy, there is a female teacher in each school participating in the project and we notice other tangible results benefitting the whole school community, such as better sanitation facilities, better school infrastructure, a reduction of the use of corporal punishment and the development of school feeding programs.

As  an African female unionist, working with Education International on eliminating child labour in my country and worldwide was a turning point in my life. When I was asked to lead the drafting process of the above-mentioned manual, I realized I had a lot of potential as an individual  and this has  given me the confidence to try out bigger things whenever any opportunity arises. In 2015, at the EI World Congress, I was among the persons who fronted the resolution on ‘Accelerated action against child labour’ which UNATU and Mali Teachers Unions presented. I was also offered a speaking role at the session on promoting Rights  -‘Tackling child labour to promote the Right to quality education’ which leveraged my campaign to succeed as the Africa regional representative for the Commonwealth Teachers’ group.

Over the years, I have enhanced my public speaking and writing skills, advocacy techniques, competences in policy analysis and social dialogue through the many child labour programmes that I have coordinated. In my country, I gained recognition and became a member of the National Steering Committee on Elimination of child labour. These experiences gave me the opportunity to inspire and mentor people in my life, particularly encouraging the female teachers in UNATU to vie for leadership positions and supporting other females and girls’ education.

Given the value of these experiences and gains at so many levels, I strongly believe in EI’s leadership for the coming years to continue building on these successes, enhancing the capacities of education unions worldwide and promoting cooperation amongst members for shared learning in education, child labour response, Collective Bargaining and social dialogue, in order to tackle child labour and strive for achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4.   

On 26 January 1993, Education International was founded through the merger of the International Federation of Free Teachers’ Unions (IFFTU) and the World Organisation of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP). On the occasion of the 25th anniversary, a special series of blogs #EI25, will be published throughout the year, bringing together voices and thoughts of unionists, education activists, partner organisations and friends, reflecting on past struggles and accomplishments, from which the organisation has drawn strength and inspiration to address current and future challenges facing education and the teaching profession. If you want to contribute to the series, please write to [email protected].


[1]Teachers and Education Unions: Ending Child Labour. A Resource Manual for Teachers & Educations Unions. EI, 2014.


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Juliet Wajega

Juliet is the Deputy General Secretary of the Uganda National Teacher’s Union (UNATU), one of the largest and strongest unions in Africa with a membership of over 160,000 teachers. She is an influential advocate for quality public education and has led multiple campaigns including for teachers’ welfare, girls’ education and female teacher leadership. She represents the teaching profession on the board of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

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