Skip to page content
Bureau of International Labor Affairs
Bookmark and Share

KENYA

1. Child Labor in Kenya

In 1998, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that 40 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 14 in Kenya were working.1029 According to a child labor survey conducted by the Kenyan Central Bureau of Statistics, an estimated 17.4 percent (1.9 million) of children between the ages of 5 and 17 were economically active in 2000.1030 Among the factors contributing to child labor in Kenya are growing poverty and the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.1031

Children in Kenya do housework and work in agriculture.1032 Children quarry soapstone in Kisii, mine sand in Ukambani and other river beds throughout the country, and mine gold in Western Kenya.1033 They wash cars, sell goods on the street, and collect and sell waste materials for money. Children also engage in illegal activities such as crime, prostitution, pornography, and the peddling of drugs.1034

In 2000, approximately 34 percent of children were working in commercial agriculture, while 23.6 percent of children were working in subsistence agriculture.1035 In commercial agriculture, children are reported to work primarily on small to medium scale sugar, coffee, and rice plantations, and the small scale production of sisal, tea, corn, wheat, and pineapples.1036 However, during peak seasons, Kenyan children account for close to one-half of the work force planting, weeding, and harvesting on sugar estates, and between 50 and 60 percent of the work force on coffee plantations.1037

Eleven percent of Kenya’s child domestic workers are 10 years old.1038 Many child domestics work for little or no pay, while enduring isolation from their families, and many suffer psychological, physical, or sexual abuse.1039

There are an estimated 200,000 street children in Kenya.1040 In order to survive, a significant number of street children engage in theft, drug trafficking and other illegal activities, while many young girls living on the street resort to prostitution.1041 A majority of the children participating had contracted sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, from local adults and tourists. In addition to health risks, many of these children suffered from serious psychological disorders due to the prison-like conditions in which they were held, and most have lost all contact with their families.1042 Cases of forced labor, in which children are loaned out to creditors to pay off family debt, have also been documented in Kenya.1043

2. Children’s Participation in School

In 1998, the gross primary attendance rate was 115 percent, and the net primary attendance rate was 87.5 percent.1044 Gross enrollment rates have since fallen from 95 percent in 1989 to 78 percent in 1996.1045 A report prepared by the Institute for Policy Analysis and Research attributes the decline in enrollment rates to the increase in schooling costs, a scarcity of education materials, and a decline in educational quality and access since 1989.1046 In 2001, President Moi issued a directive prohibiting school levies in all public primary schools. However, school still charge substantial fees which limit the ability of many families to send their children to school. A baseline study of Kenya’s salt mining regions found that 79 percent of the children surveyed in these regions worked on salt farms in order to pay for schooling materials.1047

Completion rates at the primary level averaged only 44 percent and in 1995 only 26 percent of those completing primary school transitioned to secondary school. While enrollment rates for boys and girls in primary school tends to be similar, only 35 percent of the girls completed grade 8 in 1995, as compared to 55 percent of boys.1048

There are numerous reports of sexual abuse of children by school teachers, particularly in rural schools. According to the law, a child under the age of 14 who is sexually abused is not “raped” but “defiled.” Defilement carries a maximum five year sentence, while rape carries a maximum life sentence.1049 Efforts to address the rape of young children while at school have been sporadic and have not succeeded in curbing the practice.1050

3. Child Labor Law and Enforcement

The Employment Act (Cap. 226), 1976, defines a child as an individual who has not attained the age of 16. The provisions of the act prohibit employment of children in any “industrial undertaking,” including mines, quarries and other works for the extraction of any substance from under the surface of the earth, factories, construction sites, transportation of passengers or goods, and open cast workings or sub-surface workings which are entered by means of a shaft . The act excludes, however, sectors such as agriculture, where the majority of children are reported to work.1051 Industrial labor by children under the age of 12 is prohibited by the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Ordinance of 1948.1052

The Employment (Children) Rules, 1977, outline procedures for employing children, specifying hours when a child may be employed with the official permission of an authorized officer. The maximum penalty for breaking this law is 4,000 shillings (US$70). The rules apply to all instances of child labor, except in the case of children employed as apprentices or as indentured learners.1053 Wages of apprentices and indentured learners and children under the age of 18 are governed by the Regulations of Wages and Conditions of Employment Act (Cap. 229) 1951.1054

The minimum age for hazardous work in Kenya is 18. The Factories Act of 1951 sets forth detailed health and safety standards that employers must follow. In 1990, the Factories Act was amended to include agricultural and other workers. 1055 As a result of amendments in 1990, Ministry of Labor health and safety inspectors may issue citations to employers for practices or activities that involve a risk of serious personal injuries, an authority previously vested only in magistrates.1056 The number of factory inspections has increased significantly since 1992.1057

There are a variety of actors involved in enforcing Kenya’s child labor laws. The Ministry of Labor, Child Labor Unit was recently elevated to the position of a permanent division with 10 full time labor officers and charged with coordinating the formulation and application of child labor laws.1058 Labor inspectors and Occupational Health and Safety Officers have been trained on child labor issues headed by the Deputy Director of Occupational Safety and Health Services.1059 The unit oversees the work of ten divisions and is charged with coordinating the formulation and application of labor laws. The Ministry of Home Affairs, Department of Children’s Services, has been working with UNICEF to set up community-based District Children’s Advisory Committees (DCACS), which handle child labor issues at the district and local level. These committees monitor school dropout rates, and ensure that funds raised for school projects benefiting children.1060

Kenya ratified International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 138 on the Minimum Age for Employment on April 9, 1979, and ILO Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor on May 7, 2001.1061

4. Addressing Child Labor and Promoting Schooling

a. Child Labor Initiatives

The Government of Kenya became a member of the International Labor Organization’s International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (ILO-IPEC) in 1992. Since then, ILO- IPEC Kenya has launched 67 action programs on child labor and several more mini-programs in collaboration with 22 partner agencies, including government agencies, employers and labor organizations, a wide range of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media-based organizations. In all, some 7,000 children have been helped through ILO-IPEC child labor programs.1062

With funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, Kenya is participating in an ILO-IPEC regional program to eliminate child labor in commercial agriculture in five countries in Eastern and Southern Africa. The primary objective of the project is to prevent, withdraw, and rehabilitate children working in harmful conditions in commercial agriculture and provide their families with alternative income generating activities.1063 The program seeks to increase the capacity of relevant stakeholders to identify and eliminate hazardous child labor on sugar, rice, tea and coffee plantations.

UNICEF is working in Kenya to help formulate policy on issues affecting children, and monitoring and evaluating public sector and civil society child labor efforts. Since 1999, UNICEF and the Government of Kenya have implemented a project for children in need of special protection, focusing on street children.1064

With international donor support, the Government of Kenya has amended the structure of the Ministry of Labor and the guidelines for inspection in order to increase the capacity to monitor and combat child labor. Since 1992, ILO-IPEC Kenya has trained 104 labor inspectors and 65 occupational health and safety officers. Increased inspections have resulted in identification of 8,074 child workers in the commercial services, agriculture, building, and construction and forestry sectors.1065 The Occupational Health and Safety Officers have identified 4,294 children working in hazardous conditions and 2,123 children have been removed from hazardous work.1067

The District Children Advisory Committees (DCAC), which falls under the direction of the Ministry of Home Affairs, have been working on the local level with schools in four pilot areas. These committees have provided assistance to 2,803 children (1,454 boys and 1,349 girls). Of the children, 1,252 were working in hazardous conditions and 297 were working under forced labor conditions.1067

Civil society groups are also undertaking policy advocacy efforts. The Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU), the umbrella organization for Kenyan labor unions, has been active in addressing child labor in the country.1068 ILO-IPEC has supported a series of surveys, conducted by COTU, to identify the extent of child labor by sector in the Kenyan economy, and the development of a child labor unit within COTU.1069

In April 1999, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (Solidarity Center) and the COTU began a child labor project, the Pilot Program to Assist in the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Kenya. The program is a grassroots, family- and community- level effort focusing on the commercial agriculture sector, primarily coffee plantations. According to the midterm evaluation of the project, 152 children had enrolled in formal schools after the project had been in operation for six months.1070 COTU-Solidarity Center also estimated that 105 children had been prevented from dropping out of school to join the workforce. As part of its awareness raising activities, COTU’s child labor unit also publishes Grassroots , a child labor advocacy newsletter.1071

Employer organizations like the Federation of Kenyan Employers (FKE) have also launched efforts to eliminate child labor. With ILO-IPEC support, the FKE conducted surveys to assess the use of child labor in production of coffee, rice and sugar and launched an awareness raising program using questionnaires, interviews, field trips, circulars and newsletters to create a general child labor awareness among employers.1072 The FKE has also issued guidelines on the employment of children to all of its members.1073

Most NGO efforts have focused on direct intervention to prevent, protect and rehabilitate child laborers. Representatives from some of the established NGOs, like the Undugu Society, which has been active in poverty alleviation in Nairobi since 1972, have been part of Kenya’s National Steering Committee on Child Labor, along with government officials and labor union and employer organization representatives.1074 To date, ILO-IPEC has worked with at least 22 organizations directly to support their efforts to end child labor, including at least 14 NGOs.1075 One such organization, Sinaga Women and Child Labour Resource Center, has been working in Kenya since 1995, raising awareness about girls working in domestic service and providing them with assistance.1076 With support from ILO-IPEC, OXFAM, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other donors, Sinaga has aided girls in domestic service through the provision of basic education, skills training, counseling, legal advice, and a rescue shelter for girls who have been abused by their employers. Sinaga also publishes a working paper series and a quarterly newsletter as part of its efforts to raise awareness about the plight of child domestics.1077 Another organization, the Child Welfare Society of Kenya, works specifically with street children, and in 1999, published a report on Street Children in Nairobi to inform policy making on the plight of street children.1078

b. Educational Alternatives

Education is compulsory for eight years, between the ages of 6 and 14.1079 In 1990, Kenya became a signatory to the World Declaration on Education for All. The government has since produced a Master Plan on Education and Training for 1997 to 2010.1080

Since 1990, there has been an increase in the number of primary (public) teacher training colleges in Kenya from 15 to 21, with a similar rise in the number of trained teachers. As of 1998, only 3.4 percent of Kenya’s primary school teachers did not meet the country’s national standards.1081

Kenya’s Ministry of Education has sought to address gender discrepancies in the country’s educational system. In 1995, the Government of Kenya created a Gender Unit within the Ministry of Education. This unit works with other ministries within the government, with NGOs, and community leaders to promote girls’ education. In addition, the Ministry of Education has worked with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on a Girl Child Program, which aims to close the gender gap in education.1082

From 1990 to 1996, spending by the Kenyan government on education as a percentage of gross national product (GNP) has ranged from 6.5 percent to 7.1 percent.1083 Public spending dedicated to primary education as a percentage of GNP has ranged from 3.1 percent to 3.9 from 1990 to 1996.1084 Since 1993, the Kenyan Government has allocated over 50 percent of the Ministry of Education’s recurrent expenditure to primary education.1085

5. Selected Data on Government Expenditures

The following bar chart presents selected government expenditures expressed as a percentage of gross national product (GNP). The chart considers government expenditures on education, the military, health care, and debt service. Where figures are available, the portion of government spending on education that is specifically dedicated to primary education is also shown.1086

While it is difficult to draw conclusions or discern clear correlations between areas of government expenditure as a percentage of GNP and the incidence of child labor in a country, this chart and the related tables presented in Appendix B (Tables 14 through 19) offer the reader a basis for considering the relative emphasis placed on each spending area by the governments in each of the 33 countries profiled in the report.


1029 World Development Indicators 2000 .

1030 U.S. Embassy-Nairobi, unclassified telegram no. 007028, November 5, 2001 [hereinafter unclassified telegram 007028]. See Also ILO-IPEC, Kenya Country Program 1992-2001, Brief Profile of Activities (Nairobi: ILO-IPEC, May 2001), 1 [hereinafter ILO-IPEC Kenya Country Program].

1031 Benson Oyuga, Collette Suda, and Afia Mugambi, A Study of Action Against Child Labour in Kenya: Towards a Best Practice Guide on Sustainable Action Against Child Labour for Policy Makers (Nairobi: ILO- IPEC, 1997), 27-28 [hereinafter Action Against Child Labour in Kenya ]; U.S. Embassy-Nairobi, unclassified telegram no. 003560, April 19, 2000.

1032 International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor—Kenya, IPEC Implementation Report for Kenya 1995-1997 (Nairobi: IPEC, 1998), 2-4 [hereinafter IPEC Implementation Report for Kenya ].

1033 Unclassified telegram no. 007028.

1034 IPEC Implementation Report for Kenya at 2-4.

1035 Unclassified telegram no. 007028.

1036 U.S. Embassy-Nairobi, unclassified telegram no. 008147, October 19, 2000.

1037 Federation of Kenya Employers, “Child Labor in Commercial Agriculture in Kenya” (Dar es Salaam, FKE, August 1996), 15-16.

1038 ILO-IPEC, Targeting the Intolerable (Geneva: ILO, 1998), 12.

1039 Child Domestic Workers: Child Labour in the Domestic Sector, 35-37 [on file].

1040 U.S. Embassy-Nairobi, unclassified telegram no. 003560, April 19, 2000.

1041 Rights of the Child: Report of Ms. Ofelia Calcetas-Santos, Special Rapporteur, on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography, Kenya Addendum, U.N. Document No. E/CN. 4/1998/101/Add. 1 (Geneva: U.N. Commission on Human Rights, January 28, 1998), 6. Among the groups of Kenyan children victimized by commercial sexual exploitation are schoolgirls and boys, young girls who migrate to urban areas, unskilled domestic servants, school dropouts, “second-generation” prostitutes, and beach boys.

1042 Hearing on Street Children in Kenya (Nairobi: African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect, 1995), 21, as cited in By the Sweat and Toil of Children, Volume V: Efforts to Eliminate Child Labor, (USDOL, 1998), 33.

1043 U.S. Embassy-Nairobi, Unclassified telegram no. 008147, October 19, 2000 [hereinafter Unclassified telegram 008147].

1044 USAID, GED 2000: Global Education Database [CD-ROM], Washington, D.C., 2000.

1045 Government of Kenya and UNICEF, 1999-2003 Country Programme of Cooperation: Master Plan of Operations (Nairobi: UNICEF, 1999), 5 [hereinafter Country Programme of Cooperation ].

1046 Okwach Abagi, National Legal Frameworks in Domesticating Education in Kenya: Where to Begin (Nairobi: Institute of Policy Analysis and Research, 1998), 11.

1047 Malindi Children’s Advisory Committee, Report on a Survey on Child Labor in Salt Harvesting Farms in Kenya: The Case of Gongoni Location in Malindi Subdistrict (Nairobi: ILO, 1995).

1048 Country Programme of Cooperation at 5.

1049 Unclassified telegram no. 008147.

1050 Ibid.

1051 Action Against Child Labour in Kenya at 101.

1052 Ibid. at 27.

1053 FKE Guidelines on Employment of Children (Nairobi: Federation of Kenya Employers, 1996), 2 [document on file].

1054 Action Against Child Labour in Kenya at 27.

1055 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of State, February 2000), Section 6e [hereinafter Country Reports 1999—Kenya ].

1056 Ibid.

1057 Ibid.

1058 ILO-IPEC Kenya Country Program at 2.

1059 Ibid.

1060 Ibid.

1061 For a list of which countries profiled in Chapter 3 have ratified ILO Conventions No. 138 and No. 182, see Appendix C.

1062 ILO-IPEC Kenya Country Program at 1.

1063 Targeting the Worst Forms of Child Labor in the Tea, Tobacco and Coffee Sectors in Uganda (Geneva: ILO- IPEC, September 2000) [document on file]. Among the institutions anticipated to play an active role in the project are the Federation of Uganda Employers, National Organization of Trade Unions, National Union of Plantation and Agricultural Workers, World Food Program, UNICEF, Save the Children Norway, various government ministries, and other nongovernmental and community-based organizations providing direct services to child laborers.

1064 UNICEF-Kenya, Country Project Proposals 1999-2003 (Nairobi: UNICEF, October 1998), 31-44.

1065 ILO-IPEC Kenya Country Program at 2.

1066 Ibid.

1067 Ibid.

1068 Country Reports 1999—Kenya at Section 6e.

1069 See Campaign Against Child Labour (Nairobi: Kenyan Central Organization of Trade Unions [COTU], May 1, 1998).

1070 American Center for International Labor Solidarity and Central Organization of Trade Unions (Kenya), “Eliminating the Worst Forms of Child Labour in Kenya: Mid-Term Report and Evaluation,” September 1999, 12.

1071 Ibid.

1072 U.S. Embassy-Nairobi, Cable 5357, May 5, 1999.

1073 Interview with Labor Commissioner Mwadime and Child Labor Department officials, by U.S. Department of Labor officials, May 5, 1998.

1074 Action Against Child Labour in Kenya at 47.

1075 ILO-IPEC Kenya Country Program at 1.

1076 Action Against Child Labour in Kenya at 119-22.

1077 Ibid.

1078 ILO-IPEC Kenya Country Program at 1.

1079 UNESCO, “Kenya – Education System: Structure of Education System,” at www.unesco.org/iau/cd-data/ke.rtf on 3/18/01.

1080 Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development, Education for All: Assessment of Progress (Government of the Republic of Kenya, 1997), 3- 4 [hereinafter Education for All—Kenya ].

1081 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Education for All (EFA) 2000 [online], Country Report, Kenya, “Progress toward EFA Goals and Targets,” Section 5 (www2.unesco.org/wef/ countryreports/kenya/rapport_1_1.html); cited October 30, 2001 [hereinafter EFA 2000].

1082 Ibid.

1083 World Development Indicators 2000 .

1084 UNESCO, Institute for Statistics [CD-ROM], Education for All: Year 2000 Assessment—A Decade of Education, Country Report, Kenya (Paris, 2000).

1085 EFA 2000 at Section 4.0, “Investment in EFA Since 1990” (www2.unesco.org/wef/countryreports/kenya/ rapport_1_1.html); cited October 30, 2001.

1086 See Chapter 1, Section C, 5, for a fuller discussion of the information presented in the box. See also Appendix B for further discussion, and Tables 14 through 19 for figures on government expenditure over a range of years.